Mariners happy to go with Zunino, Sucre behind plate
SAN DIEGO -- While several Major League clubs are shopping their catchers, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday he's pleased with his current group of young backstops as the Winter Meetings got underway.
Although Seattle reportedly showed some interest earlier this offseason in top free agent Russell Martin before he signed with Toronto, they don't appear in the market now for two available catchers: Wilin Rosario of the Rockies and Dioner Navarro of the Blue Jays.
Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, caught 131 games for Seattle in his first full season in the Majors. While he hit just .199, the 23-year-old was second among American League catchers with 22 home runs, and he impressed the Mariners defensively, as well.
Jesus Sucre caught 21 games after replacing veteran John Buck as the backup in mid-July, and he was adept behind the plate while batting .213. The club added 25-year-old John Hicks to the 40-man roster last week after he split the 2014 season between Triple-A Tacoma and Double-A Jackson.
"You always look," Zduriencik said. "But we're happy with the three guys on the roster. Zunino will continue to make strides. You look at what he did offensively and defensively, he was one of the best pitch framers in the game. I just think the offense will continue to evolve and get better, simply because of maturation."
Sucre, 26, has played in 29 games with Seattle over the past two years. The Mariners like his ability to handle Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma -- two tough pitchers to catch because of their ability to pound balls in the dirt -- as well as youngsters like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Roenis Elias.
"I think Jesus did a really nice job as a backup catcher," Zduriencik said. "You're going to play this guy one or two days a week. He's a great catch-and-throw guy. [Manager] Lloyd [McClendon] and I talked about it the other day. You could find a better offensive piece, but then you're going to sacrifice with the defense."
And while Hicks has yet to play in the Majors, the Mariners are bullish on the 2011 fourth-round Draft pick out of Virginia.
"Everybody really likes John Hicks," Zduriencik said. "Everyone feels like this guy, if you had to run him to the big leagues right now, he could be a big league player. He's an interesting player. Very athletic, very smart, nice receiver, he's got some offensive ability. It's a nice package. He's got an accurate arm with a quick release. If a gun was to your head, you could say, 'OK, we're going to go with John Hicks.' He's put himself in that position for us."
On another front, Zduriencik said veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist is on target to be ready for Spring Training. Bloomquist underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in August and just began running in a pool.
"Right now, everything we're being told is he's on target and feeling really good," Zduriencik said. "He should be ready for Spring Training. If that isn't the case, we'd be in position where we could fill a need if we had to for a while, depending on his situation. But we're expecting him to be ready to go."