Rookie Zunino impresses in big league debut
Seattle's No. 3 prospect displayed talent both at and behind the plate
Mariners catcher of the future Mike Zunino looks to be their catcher of the present as well. Seattle's 2012 first-round Draft pick (third overall) made his Major League debut on Wednesday for the Mariners at home in Seattle. He had been promoted from Triple-A Tacoma a day earlier.
The No. 22 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 list, Zunino batted sixth in the order and caught Jeremy Bonderman, a former Tigers starter making a comeback with Seattle.
Zunino had experience catching Bonderman at Tacoma, and the familiarity paid off. Bonderman was outstanding on the mound, and some credit must go to Zunino. He was an excellent shepherd to his pitcher, calling a very fine game and helping Bonderman attack the strike zone.
The Mariners' third-ranked prospect -- behind future battery mates Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen -- was part of three very high-quality University of Florida baseball teams prior to being drafted last year.
Zunino's numbers at Tacoma this year were very deceiving. Like most players, he scuffled a bit hitting in the northwest air. Zunino's overall average was only .238. His splits were very telling, though. Zunino hit .135 at home and .333 away. He hit 11 home runs, including 10 of them on the road. He also drove in 43 runs in just 47 games.
In his big league debut, Zunino saw a fairly steady diet of breaking balls. In his second at-bat, he lined a solid single up the middle for his first Major League hit. It was off a low slider.
Zunino has the ability to let the pitch travel well before committing with his swing. He has a measured swing that serves him well. It's not likely Zunino will be tempted to become overly aggressive and swing for the fences. His home runs will come naturally.
Defensively, in addition to receiving a great game, Zunino showed his strong and accurate throwing arm, easily catching Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez attempting to steal second base. It wasn't even close. However, later in the game, Jose Altuve was successful stealing second.
Zunino's blocking skills on balls in the dirt have improved markedly since I first scouted him during this past Arizona Fall League season. His footwork was excellent in his debut game.
Zunino and all the Mariners were challenged in the ninth inning when the Astros blew the game open. But it was command issues from usually reliable bullpen pitchers that primarily caused the issues.
Zunino finished the game with one hit in four at-bats. Most importantly, he showed an ability to play well on both sides of the ball. The brighter lights didn't intimidate Zunino. The increased numbers of levels to the stadium didn't seem to faze him. It looks like Zunino is in Seattle to stay.