As the top college position player available, Mike Zunino was the logical choice for the Mariners at #3. Seattle has a a bevy of young, talented arms and a history of solid pitcher development, but what they don’t have is a lot of offense. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik took one step to addressing the problem before the season when he traded young ace Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Jesus Montero. He took another by selecting Zunino.
The Florida catcher has been on scouts’ radars for a while–he was selected in the 30th round in the 2009 draft but elected to attend Florida instead. It was a good decision for Zunino, as he entered the 2012 MLB draft as the most polished hitter available and a solid defender at a premium position. His stock has slipped slightly after a less-than-stellar junior season, but Zunino still managed to hit .318 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs while slugging .667, earning him a spot on the All-SEC first team. Last year, his sophomore season, the young Gator was outstanding, hitting .371 with 19 home runs and was named SEC player of the year.
Zunino is solidly built at 6’2″, 220, close to the ideal size for a catcher. There are no true weaknesses in Zunino’s skillset. His receiving and blocking skills currently profile as average but have improved over his collegiate career and will likely continue to improve at the professional level. He threw out 31% of basestealers in his years at Florida, which is not terrible but also not as high as you would like to see from a future major league catcher. Reports on his arm strength vary, but scouts have commented on Zunino’s slower-than-average transfer and release. He will need to make strides in this area to reach his potential.
Offensively, the Gator backstop is a complete hitter, with the capacity to drive the ball to all fields (check out this shot to right center) and the ability to hit for power and average. His swing is clean, simple and easily repeatable. Though by no means a liability defensively, it is at the plate rather than behind it where Zunino will be the Mariners’ biggest asset.
The only real knock on Zunino is that he lacks a standout skill. While his entire game plays well at the professional level, only his power projects as above average in the major leagues. Fortunately for Zunino, his considerable intangibles make for his lack of elite tools. Noted by several scouts as having standout leadership ability and high baseball IQ, Zunino grew up around the game as his father, Greg, has been a professional scout for 20 years.
Jason Varitek with better defense.
Zunino is a nice, solid pick by the Mariners. He isn’t the flashiest choice and his ceiling may not be as high as some of the players chosen after him, but Zunino is a tough, polished ballplayer who should move quickly through the system and will be able to help the parent club in relatively short order, allowing Montero to switch to first base and DH. Of all the position players in the 2012 draft, Zunino probably has the best chance of becoming a solid major leaguer, which is exactly what the Mariners need.