Can the wiley old vet help out the rook?
Then again, maybe I’m just a former catcher trying to glorify the toughest position to play in baseball.
Either way, here’s a look at the two backstops the M’s will deploy behind the plate in 2014.
Likely to do most of the catching duties is youngster Mike Zunino, who is just 22 years old and a former No. 3 overall pick of the Mariners in 2012. With just a season and a half of ball played with wooden bats under his belt, it’s difficult to get a complete picture of what Zunino is and what he can become.
Zunino played one short season of minor league ball after being drafted. He proved to be a bit too much for the kids at A and AA ball, so he was started out at AAA to begin the 2013 campaign. Just 354 minor league at bats into his career, injuries to numerous catchers at the big-league level led to Zunino’s promotion to the Mariners mid-season 2013.
The bigs are always tough on guys who have barely had a chance to get their feet wet in the minors. Zunino understandably hit just .214 in only 173 more ABs that year before being injuring himself.
Now healthy again but barely 500 ABs into his professional career, Zunino will be asked to do even more. The Mariners are expecting him to be their catcher probably at least two out of every three games this season. That’s a tall order for this young man.
I don’t do this often, but I think we have to peek at Zunino’s college numbers to really get an idea of what kind of hitter he truly is.
Keeping in mind that in college guys tend to play around 60-70 games in a season, it’s a pretty telling statistic when you hear that Zunino in three years hit 47 home runs. That’s equivalent playing time to just over one major league season. The kid has some serious pop in that bat.
For right now, though, Zunino’s capabilities are going to be limited by his experience in the pros, so I don’t think it’s remotely fair to expect 40 homers out of the guy in his first full major league season. Learning how to handle a pitching staff and being a leader on the field are some other things Zunino must learn on the fly in 2014.
Lost in the wake of bigger names such as Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, and Fernando Rodney, joining the M’s this offseason is veteran catcher John Buck. The Mariner’s are Buck’s sixth major league club in his career. He spent most of his time in 2013 with the New York Mets before being traded toward the end of the year to the Pirates.
Buck is the textbook definition of a wiley old veteran ball player. 33 years old, 10 seasons in the bigs, Buck possesses, in abundance, exactly what Zunino lacks. Buck is smart, he’s been around, he’s professional, he’s seen what happens out there, he’s a pro’s pro.
Buck is a great choice to help Zunino become a professional big league catcher and Zunino would be wise to learn everything he can from Buck when it comes to being a leader behind the plate and on how to handle a pitching staff.
For his individual part, it’s fair to say we won’t see an offensive explosion at the plate from Buck. He’s a career .234 hitter in 10 seasons and has had just one season where he finished with a batting average above .250.
That’s okay though. The M’s are not paying Buck for what he does at the plate. They are paying him for what he does behind the plate.
In 10 seasons, Buck has a career .992 fielding percentage. He’s fully capable of making all the routine plays.
Given that both Buck and Zunino are right-handed bats, just how often Buck gets in there I think depends on how well Zunino plays. I’d look for Buck to get around 60-70 starts this year barring injuries to either player.