What Is Next For Seattle Mariners Catcher Mike Zunino?

All New Look Behind The Plate For M’s In 2016

The Seattle Mariners of 2016 are going to have a new look in a lot of areas on the field.  The most drastic change might be behind the plate, however, given that the Mariners sleepless, new GM, Jerry Dipoto, made the moves to replace both his starting and backup catchers from the 2015 lineup.

New M's catcher Chris Iannetta feasts on left handed pitching.

New M’s catcher Chris Iannetta will be the regular starter in 2016.

Chris Iannetta was inked to be the full time M’s backstop for 2016.  His deal is worth a few packs of gum north of $4 million for the 2016 season and the Mariners hold an option on him for the 2017 season.  Just like most of Dipoto’s signings this offseason, Iannetta is coming off a down year in 2015.

Iannetta hit just .188 for the Angels last season.  That number is a significant drop off from his career .233 average.  Still, Iannetta’s career numbers are far better than what the Mariners 2015 starting catcher, Mike Zunino put up.  Zunino managed just a .174/.230/.300 slash line last season.

Backing up Iannetta will be Steve ClevengerJesus Sucre is still with the M’s organization but will miss the bulk of the season with a broken leg.  The good news here is that Clevenger had solid numbers for the Orioles during 2015 albeit in very limited chances.

Clevenger slashed his way to a .287/.314/.426 line for the O’s last season.  The concern with those numbers is that they represent only 100 at bats in 30 or so games.  Clevenger is also out of options so if he struggles, it means he’s going to have to leave the M’s via the DFA list.

With Clevenger and Iannetta clearly entrenched in the catching roles at the big league level, where does that leave Mr. Zunino?  The short answer is at AAA Tacoma — and I think that might be the best thing for Zunino at his current state of development.

Zunino hit balls that still haven't landed on a regular basis in college. (photo

Zunino hit balls that still haven’t landed on a regular basis in college. (photo

Let’s not forget that Zunino has just a handful of minor league ABs at any level.  The Mariners, then led by Jack Zduriencik, were forced to bring him up too early because of a series of injuries at the catcher position.  The biggest error the M’s made with Zunino is that after the year in which Zunino was forced into to duty, they decided to leave him as their big league catcher instead of going out and finding a replacement during the offseason.  Pitchers made an adjustment to Zunino’s early hitting successes and he didn’t have the necessary experience to counter.

I think the Mariners are far from giving up on their former number one draft choice and catcher of the future.  The M’s are simply giving Zunino the opportunity to hit the ball at the AAA level, something he needs to do.  Zunino has just over 60 career appearances as a catcher at AAA.  That’s not even half a season.

The damage the Mariners have done to Zunino is not irreversible.  He just needs time at that AAA level to regain his confidence.  Andy McKay, the Mariners’ new director of player development, hired last October to replace Chris Gwynn has told us repeatedly this offseason how he plans to create a new culture where the organization provides a consistent message at every level.

That is exactly the kind of coaching Zunino needs at this point and he needs at a level that does not have the pressures that come with a stage as big as the one you find at the corner of Edgar and Dave.

As to what exactly is wrong with Zunino, it’s probably not any one thing.  He tends to chase pitches out of the zone.  He’s easily fooled with breaking pitches.  At times, he looks like he is clearly guessing that a certain pitch in a certain location is coming.  Confidence is not something we see oozing from him these days either which leads me to believe he’s beating himself up inside his own mind as much as pitchers are doing to him at the plate.

Remember playing ball in the street  as a kid when something weird would happen and everyone would shout, “do-over”?  Well, that’s what Mike is getting this year—a do over, a rebuilding of the player that once dominated the SEC with his huge bat while playing for Florida.

It’s not likely we’ll see the fruits of the Zunino rebuild during the 2016 season.  If things go well, however, in 2017 the M’s could finally have the catching prize they when they selected Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in 2012.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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