At this time last year, Tacoma catcher Mike Zunino was leading the Florida Gators to their third consecutive College World Series for the first time in school history.
A year later, Zunino is on the fast track to the majors. The third overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in last year's draft, Zunino has experienced a rare hitting slump in his Triple-A debut but continues to be an RBI machine.
“He'll be a No. 1 catcher in the big leagues for a decade or longer,” said Tacoma manager John Stearns. “He's not quite ready, yet. He signed less than a year ago. The most important thing for him is to prove he can play defensively in the big leagues.”
Named the national college player of the year, Zunino received a $4 million signing bonus, which was under the slot recommendation. But by signing quickly, Zunino improved his chances of reaching the majors earlier.
There's always trepidation about promoting a player too soon. But most scouts feel Zunino, 22, doesn't need much more time in the minors, especially playing for an organization that lacks players with star potential.
“As a player you want to move as fast as you can,” Zunino said. “I just need to continue to put my work in, try to better myself and bring a good attitude to the ballpark every day. It's been a lot of fun with this team.”
Zunino created a buzz around baseball last summer after he hit .360 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in only 44 games in Class-A and Double-A.
Because of his defensive struggles, Seattle catcher Jesus Montero might be relegated to being the Mariners designated hitter. Most expect Zunino to become Seattle's starting catcher before the All-Star break, possibly as early as Memorial Day.
“Obviously it's great to hear and great that people think that about me,” Zunino said. “I'm just trying to become the best player I can be. They'll call me up whenever they think the time is right.”