Time to curb expectations
A big catcher drafted from the University of Florida, Zunino absolutely mashed in his senior season. By years end he was awarded the Golden Spikes Award—given each season to the countries best amateur baseball player.
After his stud season Zunino entered the draft and was taken No. 3 overall by the Seattle Mariners.
Since the 21-year-old signed quickly with the Mariners, he was able to get in 44 minor league games with the M’s before season end.
The brunt of those were spent at Everett, where Zunino hit .373/.474/.736 with 20 extra base hits and 35 RBI. He would finish out his season with 15 games at Double-A Jackson where he hit .333 with three home runs.
Defensively Zunino did well with the base paths, throwing out 43 percent of runners. However, he struggled with receiving, posting nine passed balls.
In other words, Zunino was as good as advertised.
He was so good in fact that there’s many a Mariner fan drooling over the potential. Said fans are so blinded by their lust for a competent offense that they think the catcher could see regular playing time this season.
If you’re one of those fans, step back and take a deep breath.
Yes, Zunino is good. He’s got monstrous power, and with any luck he could be close to a Buster Posey—and at the worst he could be a Matt Wieters.
But let’s look at the facts.
Zunino was very good in the minors and didn’t slow down at Double-A But he left the draft a fairly polished college player—from the SEC—of course he’s going to dominate the lower minors. And while he seemed unaffected by Double-A, he only played 15 games there.
It would be very aggressive—and against their MO—for the Mariners to start Zunino at Triple-A this year. And unless he has significant playing time at Tacoma, there’s no way he’s cracking the Big League roster.
Even if Zunino surpasses reasonable expectations in the high minors, Seattle still faces a log jam at catcher.
Right now it looks like the Mariners are comfortable platooning Jesus Montero and John Jaso behind the plate in 2013. With Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak set to get the majority of DH at bats, Seattle would have a tough time repositioning either backstop.
So not only is there no spot at catcher for Zunino, it would equally as difficult for Seattle to make room at the position.
Now that we’ve discussed what aren’t reasonable expectations, what is reasonable?
Well, even if he gets an invitation to Spring Training, Zunino will most likely start his season at Double-A. Depending on performance, he could be seeing time at Triple-A as soon as June.
From there, his fate is tied to his own performance as well as Seattle’s.
With good stats, he could see some playing time in September when rosters expand. But if Seattle is somehow in the thick of a playoff race—improbable, but possible—there’s a chance the organization gives Zunino regular at bats in the minors than sparse playing time with the Big League club.
So while many a fan gets swept away by Zunino’s godly stats, just know he’s still a prospect who needs time to develop.
He could get some MLB experience in 2013, but don’t hold your breath for it to be before September.