With the third overall pick of the 2012 MLB draft, the Seattle Mariners selected Florida catcher Mike Zunino. He has all the makings of a baseball superstar, and he's going to do it with the Mariners.
This was the third time in four years that the M's had one of the first three picks in the draft, which is one of the few perks that comes with a dreadful season. Along with some other MLB regulations that seek to level the playing field slightly after each season, the draft gives poor-performing teams a shot at redemption in the future.
Scouting director Tom McNamara and company selected Dustin Ackley in 2009 with the second overall pick and Danny Hultzen last year, also with the second overall pick. Both of those picks are set up to succeed as of now, but it's still early in both of their careers.
It's been a rough decade, really, for the Mariners and their fans, but the fact that they've lost so many games consistently over the past five or six years means they've accrued a sizable group of the nation's best young players. It makes for a wider foundation to build upon and a higher chance of success.
If all goes according to plan, Zunino will join that group in a couple of years in the majors, and the M's will be poised to seize the World Series title.
Here are 10 reasons why Mike Zunino will prosper with the Mariners and reach superstardom in the good company of Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Nick Franklin.
In 2012 so far, Mike Zunino has appeared in 62 games, hitting for a .316/.388/.667 AVG/OBP/SLG line. He's on top of the Southeastern Conference in home runs with 18 and is 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts.
Those numbers paint a picture of an offensively well-rounded player, and that's only half of Zunino's appeal.
The fact that Zunino produced numbers of that caliber bodes well for how he may fare against the tougher pitching in the minor leagues and then the major leagues. And the fact that he ranked close to the top among the best hitters in college baseball demonstrates his relative dominance at the plate.
Zunino's 27 doubles this year and 23 last year are both good for the SEC lead. He's good at belting home runs, but he's a strong hitter in general, a quality that's nice when the deep fences of Safeco taunt you.
His propensity to double indicates that he'll fare better than other right-handed sluggers who've tried Safeco (Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre come to mind), with fewer fly outs and more balls landing for hits.
He had a pretty high BABIP during his stellar sophomore year that dropped nearly .100 points in his junior year, even though his doubles kept falling, which is encouraging.
Zunino has just three errors in 474 chances this year, equivalent to a .994 fielding percentage. For a team that's always had a pining for defense, that's an attractive number.
He also has a .297 caught stealing percentage, which ranks right in the middle of the pack of major league catchers this year. Between his junior year in college and when he eventually makes his major league debut, he'll face faster baserunners, but his arm will also strengthen, so the number should remain pretty constant.
The Mariners' current catcher platoon of Miguel Olivo, John Jaso and Jesus Montero sports varying defensive and offensive skills, but Zunino could have the appropriate balance of the two to assume the starting catcher role in a couple of years, bumping Montero to DH (assuming Olivo's gone and Jaso remains a backup).
Zunino's junior year wasn't even his best year. He won SEC player of the year in 2011 as a sophomore, leading one of the nation's toughest conferences in total bases (178), hits (98), runs (75), doubles (23) and home runs (19), playing in all 72 of the team's games.
His stats aren't quite as phenomenal this year, but it's hard to say he dropped off. His OPS dropped just 61 points, but that was mostly in on-base percentage, as his slugging percentage has remained nearly constant.
The drop in OBP is reflected almost completely in his batting average, as he has nearly as many walks this year in not as many games. He's also on pace for more home runs than last year, so it's really just give and take.
There's a middle point between power and average that Zunino will want to find, but only once he settles into his role on the Mariners. That middle point is different for every player (e.g. Ichiro's point is moving toward power and away from average as his agility decreases with age and Carlos Peguero's point is moving toward average since he can't play in the majors with a .220 average, regardless of how many bombs he launches).
Further evidence to the conclusion of his sustainability is the fact that he was drafted by the Oakland Athletics back in 2009 as a senior in high school. He's been getting big-time attention for four years now.
In addition to being a strong player in general, Zunino is a hitter. That simple fact adds to the security of a spot on the roster for him.
There's no excess of star players in the majors for the M's, but there are a number of pitchers in the minors who have brilliant potential. Hitters, on the other hand, are a little more scarce, which is why the eight of the team's first 10 picks in this year's draft were hitters.
One question that arises from taking Zunino is what the M's plan to do with two of the best young catchers in the game (the other being Jesus Montero, pictured). Of the two, Zunino is currently better defensively, but Montero is getting starts in the majors, which is a pretty steep learning curve.
The obvious solution would be to have one or the other DH, and it seems like a viable option since, in two years, they could be the best two hitters on the team.
Regardless of who gets the start, the fact that Zunino is a talented hitter gives him a good shot at being part of the Mariners for the near future.
Due to Zunino's relative major-league readiness, he should be joining the major league Mariners while he's still close in age and development as a lot of the other starters (including Nick Franlkin, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders and that's just for hitters).
That will yield a lineup that isn't broken up by veterans retiring, being traded or declining. And while all of those players are relatively close in age, the range is big enough that the younger guys can learn from the slightly more experienced ones.
In that sense, Zunino fits into general manager Jack Zduriencik's plan beautifully. It seems pretty logical that Jack Z isn't going to go out fishing for veteran sluggers with past success in hitter-friendly ballparks, so building from within is the way to go.
Mike Zunino's father is Cincinnati Reds scout Greg Zunino, who also played a couple of years of minor league baseball back in the Stone Age.
Being raised in a baseball family adds some intrinsic value to a player that can't be attainted in any other way. It can be a valuable addition that shines through in unexpected times and scenarios.
We'll take it.
It's always nice having the guy in charge on your side. Especially on a team where pretty much anyone in the organization has a shot at the majors.
Some questioned the pick since there are currently three catchers on the M's active roster, one of whom is still very young, to which Jack Z replied during a press conference (via The Seattle Times): "You never have enough catchers. Fortunately, in our league, we have a DH."
Like I was saying earlier, Zunino and Montero could be two of the team's best hitters in a couple of years, necessitating the use of the DH spot for a catcher. Zdurinecik added that "We like Montero an awful lot. They'll both be in our plans as we move forward."
A number of these reasons have been solely about securing a spot on the roster for Zunino. The title insinuated two things: that he would become a superstar, and that he'd do it WITH the Mariners.
So, the reason that so many slides are dedicated to his spot on the team is that his superstardom is even more taken for granted, eh?
McNamara's description (via The Seattle Times):
There's a lot I like about Mike Zunino. His character, his integrity, the family he comes from. We talk about it all the time in our meetings. He's a winning player with character. Obviously, you have to have talent to be the No. 3 pick in the country. He's a good defensive catcher, he has extra-base power, and he's a leader.
Obviously, a scout will be fond of his first pick, but from McNamara's words, it sounds like he sees Zunino as way more than a trade token.
Jack Z and McNamara are in close coordination regarding the future of the team, and they both like Zunino—seems like good news for the first-round pick.
Tom McNamara mentioned it, but it's worth repeating. There's a consensus that Zunino possesses a healthy character, strong leadership qualities and, perhaps his only qualified "plus tool," his baseball IQ.
Zunino is the type of player you want to have in your clubhouse because he'll contribute to the team's chemistry, and he won't have detrimental effects on his teammates (Carl Everett).
So keep an eye on Zunino as he tracks through the Mariners organization and potentially makes it to the majors sometime next season—he'll be the next Mariners superstar.