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Zunino named Golden Spikes Award winner

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Mike Zunino, the third overall selection in this year's First-Year Player Draft, was named the winner of the 2012 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award.

The award, sponsored by Major League Baseball, is annually bestowed to the amateur player who best exhibits exceptional on-field ability and exemplary sportsmanship. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the 2010 Golden Spikes recipient, made the announcement live on MLB Network.

A former University of Florida catcher who was selected by the Mariners in the Draft, Zunino won the 35th edition of the award over fellow finalists Mark Appel, a right-handed pitcher from Stanford, and Carlos Rodon, a left-handed pitcher from North Carolina State.

Zunino, who also won this year's Dick Howser Trophy as the premier college player and the Johnny Bench Award as the best collegiate catcher, batted .322 with 19 home runs and 67 RBIs as a junior for the Gators in 2012.

He also excelled during his sophomore season, recording an identical 19 homers and 67 RBIs with a .371 average.

"I'm ecstatic," Zunino said. "The guys here, with Carlos Rodon and Mark Appel, it was just a privilege to be in their presence. For me, being a catcher and working with pitchers, it was fun to have a good time with them in New York [on Friday.]"

"USA Baseball could not be more proud of the three Golden Spikes Award finalists, Mike Zunino, Mark Appel and Carlos Rodon," said Paul Seiler, executive director/CEO of USA Baseball. "Each athlete authored an incredible season on the diamond this year, and they carried themselves with class off the field as well. Mike's performance in 2012 stood above the rest, however, and we are honored to present such a deserving player with the award."

Friday's announcement marked the culmination of an evaluation that commenced when USA Baseball compiled a list of more than 200 candidates. The list also allowed for rolling nominations, which ensured that all deserving players were given consideration. USA Baseball officials unveiled preseason and midseason Golden Spikes Award watch lists on Feb. 16 and May 1, respectively.

On May 29, the candidate pool was whittled down to a 30-player semifinalist list, which was sent to a voting body consisting of past USA Baseball national team coaches and press officers, media members who closely follow the sport, select professional baseball personnel and current USA Baseball staff.

In total, 219 experts and a fan poll -- which counted as one vote -- decided on the three finalists.

Appel, the No. 8 pick overall in this year's First-Year Player Draft, went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA and a 130/30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 innings in 2012. He remains unsigned after being picked by the Pirates.

"I am really glad Mike won," Appel said. "He definitely deserved it. He's had a great year, a great three years at Florida. I know he's going to have a great career with the Mariners."

Rodon, who was drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round in 2011 but instead opted to pitch for the Wolfpack, completed his freshman campaign with a perfect 9-0 record, a 1.57 ERA and a 135/41 K-to-BB ratio in 115 innings.

"Today was an amazing day. Just this whole experience," Rodon said.

Despite having the spotlight on his southpaw arm for much of 2012, Rodon wanted to discuss his team's success and aspirations for next season.

"We had a great season. We had a good team. Hopefully next year we will have a better team and make it to [the College World Series in] Omaha."

Zunino's father, Greg, is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds. His mother, Paola, caught for the Italian national softball team. That type of upbringing cannot do anything but help a player. Zunino was no exception, calling his own games while serving as a team leader behind the plate.

"I am extremely proud," Greg said. "He went to Florida not expecting anything, wanting to earn his job. Kept improving every year, kept working hard every year, and it's really paid off. He's done a great job."

Zunino will attend the 83rd annual MLB All-Star Game at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday before officially embarking on his professional career with the Everett AquaSox, Seattle's Class A short-season affiliate.

"I'm reporting on the 10th [of July]," Zunino said. "They said they want to ease me back into it -- take a couple BPs, get back in shape, catch a couple 'pens. ... I am just looking forward to getting back and playing."

Past winners of the Golden Spikes Award have gone on to successful pro careers.

The 2010 and 2011 recipients, Harper and Trevor Bauer, made their big league debuts in 2012 amid much fanfare. The winners from 2007-09, David Price, Buster Posey and Stephen Strasburg, are MLB All-Stars this season. Jered Weaver, the 2004 honoree, also earned a trip to the approaching Midsummer Classic. And Tim Lincecum -- the 2006 recipient -- has won two Cy Young Awards.

Many believe the 6-foot-1 backstop will wind up joining the ranks of the elite, as well.

"I think when you look at what [Zunino] brings to the table, his offensive numbers are impressive," Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said at the catcher's introductory news conference on Tuesday.

"But his defensive leadership, what he does behind the plate, I think is going to be very important to this organization as we move forward."

As a catcher, Zunino can view the entire playing field from his position. What he has never seen, though, is his father -- the Reds scout -- in Mariners attire.

The ever-determined catcher has tried to change that.

"I was giving him a hard time. We went to the Seattle Mariners team store in Seattle, and I told him I would buy him an Under Armour Seattle shirt so he can wear it under when he scouts. But he said he wouldn't do that," the younger Zunino said.

"But maybe in a few years, I will still be with the Mariners, playing for them at the highest level, and he then can wear some stuff."

Seattle Mariners, Mike Zunino