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June 12, 2013

The Call-Up

Mike Zunino

by Jason Parks and Bret Sayre


The Situation: With suspect talent behind the dish at the major league level, the Mariners are calling up their catcher of the future to help provide a spark in the present. You can question the motives behind the move, as the unattractive whiff of desperation can be found if you really want to find it, but the position is in need of an upgrade, and Zunino is the beneficiary of the opportunity.

Background: After a standout college career at the University of Florida, Zunino was popped with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. As a dual-threat catcher with some polish, Zunino was seen by many as a fast-track candidate to the highest level, a player who could start providing a return on Seattle’s initial $4M investment without a lengthy trek through the minor leagues. It was all sunshine and roses after he signed, as the then 21-year-old was the darling of the Northwest League, hitting a robust .373/.474/.736 in 29 games before a late-season promotion to Double-A, where he continued to impress with the stick.

The results this season haven’t been quite as positive for the young catcher, as Triple-A arms have been able to exploit his approach and tease out the swing-and-miss in his game. The power looks the part, but is often predicated on the mistakes of fringe pitching and the offense-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League.

Scouting Report: While his collegiate accolades, draft placement, and early professional success would seem to suggest that Zunino is among the top prospects in the game and a future all-star in the majors, the scouting reports often paint a very different picture. At the plate, Zunino has skill with the bat, with legit pop and extra-base hit potential; he’s not a middle-of-the-order impact type of bat, but he has more offensive potential than the average backstop. Of course, his bat has been the recipient of a lot of hype because of the position Zunino plays, but both his swing and his approach could limit some of his offensive value, especially against high-level arms.

I was able to watch Zunino quite a bit during spring training, and the holes in his game show up when he’s matched against pitchers with legit stuff. His load and his path into the hitting zone didn’t raise any red flags, but the trigger itself wasn’t especially explosive (fast) or short to the ball. He crushed pitches that were left out over the plate, as he was able to get extension and drive the ball into the right-center-field gap, a place where his power looked very comfortable. Inside velocity was another story, as he struggled to get around on balls at the hands and above, mostly because of the trigger and the length of the swing. Zunino tracks the ball well and appears to knows the strike zone, but he would expand to chase breaking balls and struggled to adjust his swing plane to vertical movement.

Time after time, Zunino took advantage of mistakes while losing the battle against stuff. The hit tool grades out in the 5 (average) range, meaning he has a chance to hit .265-plus if he can cut down on some of the swing-and-miss. The power is closer to a 5 than a 6 (plus), and you can see 15-20 home runs if everything clicks. Most teams in the league would salivate over a .265-plus hitter with 20 bombs coming from behind the plate, so it’s not like the projection is unattractive. It’s just not world changing.

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Related Content:  Scouting,  Minor Leagues,  Mariners,  Call-up,  Mike Zunino

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Perfect Game Presents:... (06/12)
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Premium Article The Call-Up: Gerrit Co... (06/11)
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Premium Article The Call-Up: Wil Myers (06/18)
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Premium Article Overthinking It: The E... (06/12)

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