That was the general consensus last year at least. The Mariners, desperate to try and appease their fan base with a product on the field that was worth watching, made an error in judgment from a baseball standpoint and fast-tracked their 2012 1st round pick to the Major Leagues after less than a calendar year, even though he was having some struggles at the plate in Triple-A. It was a "panic move". He wasn't ready. They were hurting his development. He wasn't going to hit.
30 games into his first full MLB season for the Mariners, Mike Zunino leads Seattle in OPS (.750) and OPS+ (114). He leads all MLB catchers -- and is 14th in MLB among all positions -- in defensive fWAR (3.8). He leads all MLB catchers in framing runs (5.1). He leads Seattle in slugging (.460), he's tied for second on the M's in home runs (4) and he's fourth on the club in RBI (14).
Mike Zunino was rushed to the big leagues.
The statement can, of course, still be true even though the results seem to say otherwise. Not many draft picks -- even top-3 draft picks -– are ready for the majors after spending just 96 games in the minor leagues. But as we heard from the day he was drafted by the Mariners and by every draft expert or college baseball expert covering the draft, Zunino wasn't the same as most draft picks.
Even following his decent showing in 2013 (particularly a hot stretch right before his hand injury), there were people pining for Seattle to go out and sign a catcher for 2014, someone to considerably ease the load on their young catcher or to allow him to start 2014 in Triple-A again. Seattle instead calmly waited and added veteran John Buck, very clearly letting him know they were bringing him aboard to be Mike's backup.
Zunino has been lauded for his maturity, his leadership, his understanding of the game and how to handle it's intricate situations. Different players react differently to being challenged with promotions -- especially to the big leagues -- but when the move with Zunino was made, Mariners' General Manager Jack Zduriencik hinted at their perception of the young catcher's mental make-up when he said, "The one thing you can never give someone in the minor leagues is what it's like to be in the big leagues, the speed of the game and how quick it is. When they get here and experience that, some guys adapt immediately."
Zunino has adapted, if not immediately, very quickly to the challenges of being an everyday catcher in the big leagues. And no stage has proven too big for the 22-year-old. Last week he collected four hits in his Yankee Stadium debut, becoming the second youngest player to have four-plus hits in his debut there and only the 14th player overall to do so in his debut. And he did it with the flu.
For all the talk last June of Zunino not being ready and the Mariners rushing their prized prospect, he is proving to be up for the challenge. And proving to be a special player that should be an integral part of the Mariners attack for years to come.
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