The Florida Gators enjoyed a fantastic 2012 baseball season a year ago thanks in large part to the efforts of superstar catcher Mike Zunino. After taking home the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top player, the young backstop was selected third-overall by the Seattle Mariners.
Obviously, the Mariners had lofty expectations for such a high draft selection, but not even the team’s front office could have predicted this.
With zero professional baseball experience, Zunino is hitting the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Against the best pitchers the Minor Leagues have to offer, Zunino hit eight extra-base hits in his first five games. Over his 201 at-bats thus far, he has earned 26 walks, showing off the kind of plate discipline MLB managers come to expect out of far more seasoned veterans.
Thus, Scott White of CBS Sports believes a call-up to the Big Leagues could be imminent, despite Zunino’s seeming lack of experience:
Well, not only did he play three years of college ball, which immediately gives him a leg up on every other player selected at that point, but he dominated there, winning the Golden Spikes Award in 2012. The last six recipients of that award — Trevor Bauer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, David Price and Tim Lincecum — all made quick ascensions, and with the exception of Bauer and, to a lesser extent, Price, they all lived up to the hype right away.
Plus, all the scouting reports on Zunino are quick to mention his leadership ability, work ethic and baseball acumen — you know, all those intangibles that might normally hold a player back even when he’s hitting the daylights out of the ball.
At this point there really only seems to be one thing standing in between Zunino’s rise from college baseball superstar to Major League millionaire, and that one thing comes in the form of Jesus Montero.
The Mariners have been bad for a long time now. There is no question that there are holes throughout Seattle’s roster. However, catcher does not happen to be one of them.
Or does it?
At only 23 years old, Montero is a great young prospect himself, but he is only batting .209 with zero homers through the early going and has already been benched several times in favor of 32-year old backup Kelly Shoppach.
“[Zunino] just needs to play,” general manager Jack Zduriencik recently told ESPN.com. “He’s a fast-tracker, and if you brought him to the big leagues today, he’d handle himself.”
That is high praise from a guy with two catchers already in his stable. It sounds like Zduriencik not only thinks the world of Zunino, but that the minor leaguer belongs with the big boys right now.