The Major League Baseball Draft differs from its counterparts, the NFL and NBA Draft. Admittedly, it lacks a lot of the drama, the glitz, the pre-draft shows attempting to predict the 457,584,124 (yes, I made that number up) possible outcomes, Mel Kuiper, Jr.’s hair, etc. Give credit to Bud Selig for trying to hype up the event in recent years, and all in all, the MLB Network has done a fine job at trying to build the drama.
No matter the drama, or lack thereof, the #1 pick isn’t going to go join whatever team he’s drafted by right after he’s selected. He’s not going to make an immediate impact and, in a weird sort of way, that’s a good thing. After all, if there were no Minor Leagues, what would we here at S2S have to write about?!
But joking aside, the Minor Leagues are for players to perfect their craft, adjust to playing baseball every single day to gradually improve and work their way up through the system, and hopefully improve enough after each season to earn a spot on a big league club in approximately three or four years time.
Many begin in the short-season Rookie League, and work their way up to low “A”, then advanced “A”, and so on. In this instance, however, we can throw all of that “stepping stone” business out the window, as Mike Zunino came crashing onto the scene this summer.
The former Florida Gator was drafted by the Seattle Mariners back in June with the third overall pick. Playing in the ultra-competitive SEC, Zunino had a college average of .327, was the first Florida Gator to be voted as a first-team All-American twice, and holds a smattering of other University of Florida collegiate baseball records.
To put it mildly, the guy raked in Tallahassee.
So, he was projected to go high in the draft, and yes, as mentioned above, he was the third overall pick. He was a pretty safe bet, considering he hit for average and power to all fields, was a solid defensive catcher, and could handle his pitching staffs well.
After the draft, he headed immediately to Northwest League (Rookie League) to play for the Everett AquaSox – and this is where his surprising first-year campaign began.
He burst onto the scene with a .360 AVG, 13 HR, and 43 RBI in just 29 games! Then, came the move that puts Zunino above most minor league players; no, he wasn’t moved up to Low “A”, or even High “A”, but all the way up to “AA” in one fell swoop. And he didn’t leave his swing back in Everett, Washington, either.
In AA Jackson of the Southern League, Zunino hit .333 with 3 HR and 8 RBI, in 15 games.
To bring Mariners’ fans down to Earth a bit, it’s fair to point out that Zunino has only played in 44 games as a professional, and as most reasonable baseball fans can ascertain, that’s an incredibly small sample size in the grand scheme of things. However, if he continues on this type of pace, I imagine he has a shot of being called up by September of next season at the earliest.
On the other hand, one must take into account the stable of catchers currently on Seattle’s roster, which includes the solid backup of Miguel Olivo, the dependable John Jaso, and the projected star, Jesus Montero.
While it is possible that Zunino could begin next season by struggling, I think he’ll end up making the Major League roster by 2014 at the latest and his assignment to the Arizona Fall League could certainly hasten his big league debut. He’s built like a tank, at 6’2″/22o pounds. He has the experience of playing three seasons in college, on top of the Minor League experience he’s had/will have. He’s solid behind the plate and at the plate, showing the ability to hit for average and power.
This combination, in a catcher, no less, makes fans and scouts alike salivate. It’s fun to see a guy come in and tear through the minors, however, it’s exceedingly rare for a catcher to light it up.
With having to worry about your own hitting, PLUS having to learn new pitchers who are constantly called up and sent down, on top of worrying about whether you yourself will be called up or sent down, is a lot to handle. From the looks of it, Zunino is adapting quite nicely, and next season, (I assume he’ll start again in “AA” Jackson), I expect to see him continue at a fiery pace and have Mariners’ fans clamoring for his arrival at SAFECO Field.
Just think: a battery of Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker sounds pretty darn good…