Editor's note: Please welcome Alex Carson to the talented group of writers we've assembled at Lookout Landing. Alex has written for Prospect Insider as well as Sodo Mojo, and he'll be contributing regularly here. We're happy to have him and I hope you are as well. - Scott
Within an hour of the news spilling out Monday that Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino was boarding a plane for the Emerald City, a proverbial horse had been killed, dragged through the street and beaten mercilessly from every angle. This is the instant-reaction world we now inhabit thanks to social media and easily accessible information.
While we don't have all the information to know what the club's plans are -- hey, maybe this really is only for a few days -- the knee-jerk reaction that this is a sink-or-swim move isn't altogether uneducated. We could all be wrong, but this recipe sure has all the ingredients of a transaction that's asking a top prospect of a bad baseball team to play savior for a season -- and perhaps for some jobs.
Zunino's struggles thus far are well chronicled. From the weird with his extreme home/road splits to the unquestionably bad that has seen him run a 28.4 percent strikeout rate. He's struggled with breaking balls and we haven't even discussed the benefits of further refinement as a defensive backstop.
Let's use the glory of GIF to look at one of the bigger issues causing Zunino's poor showing. He's chased a lot of pitches this season, several of those coming from right-handed pitchers and being high in the zone.
Oh, that body language.
Much like Dustin Ackley's lefty strike or Adrian Beltre's insistence to chase that low and away slider, Zunino's had poor selection on a particular type of pitch. The bane of Zunino's existence this season has been going after balls up in the zone. Part of this has been due to how often he's been behind in the count. Pitchers have gone right after him in 0-2 and 1-2 counts, with the result often times being a swinging strikeout. While PITCHF/x data isn't available for minor leaguers, this will be something to watch as that information now becomes freely available in big league ballparks.
Make no mistake, if Mike Zunino is thrown fastballs in the middle of the plate, he's got a good chance to crush them a long, long ways. However, what I've seen from watching him in Tacoma is that he gets pretty aggressive when he sees the heater coming. There are few he doesn't like. The location of the above example was the result of poor command, but got the job done because the batter saw fastball and committed early. Aside from having to deal with really good breaking and off-speed stuff at the next level, you can bet the rookie is going to see his fair share of fastballs off the plate and above and below the zone.
Zunino improving on this area of weakness while having to deal with markedly better pitchers and scouting reports will be a challenge.
It's not all doom-and-gloom, though. On the road, Zunino has hit pretty well. That .333/.389/.750 triple slash away from Cheney Stadium is pretty nifty. Sure, the PCL is one of the most hitter-friendly league in organized baseball, so it's easy to brush away half the stats when the other half makes him look like more of a demotion candidate than a top prospect. There is a really good hitter inside Mike Zunino's body, though, and we've seen strong flashes of that even during this campaign.
One could even make the argument that his woes at the plate in Tacoma are thanks in part to a low, unsustainable .277 BABIP. That's a performance that a player with this pedigree will certainly improve upon. For reference, Michael Saunders has a career .277 BABIP and 26.5% strikeout rate. Okay, so that exercise was simultaneously promising and depressing.
Mike Zunino might be awesome right away. History may summon chuckles from its belly as the ink dries in the books about our worries. That's the crazy and awesome thing about this game. You can't predict it and you really don't know what will happen.
When you're done cherry picking, though, we keep coming back to the dominant point: Mike Zunino is not a major league ready player. He's been inconsistent and has serious and obvious holes in his game. He should be in Triple-A still, building upon his last seven games that have seen him start to string together some nice games at home. Instead, he's getting a head-scratching promotion to begin his big league career prematurely.
This wasn't a healthy decision for the long-term growth for this player or his franchise.