In a perfect world perhaps Mike Zunino would have made his big league debut this year on Opening Day. He would have been given the time to develop his offense, and his prodigious power would have been complimented with hard won lessons in plate coverage and pitch recognition over thousands of minor league at bats. He would be a hyped prospect, a former number three overall draft pick, and the future of the catcher position in Seattle. Perhaps the team would feel so comfortable with him that they never trade Mark Trumbo for Steve Clevenger, or sign Chris Iannetta.
The world, of course, is tragically broken, much like Clevenger’s hand. With Jesus Sucre just beginning his rehab, Steve Baron and Rob Brantly very, very bad and not on the 40-man roster, respectively, it has come time to find out if Zunino's work in Tacoma is transferable to the major leagues.
I had forgotten, specifically, how badly Zunino was rushed to the major leagues before today. With only 115 professional games played, and a 96 wRC+ in Tacoma, Zunino's 2013 promotion to Seattle is one of the cruelest and most obvious ways to screw up a prospect I can recall. The demands of the catcher position combined with Zunino's lack of experience left him completely helpless when MLB pitchers figured out lack of plate discipline. You can go look at his 2015 numbers, if you need to remind yourself. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Yeah, 47 wRC+! Wowzers, that is sure bad. Anyway, so far in Triple A Zunino has been the best offensive player, by far, that he's ever been in his career. He has a 133 wRC+, and a .390 OBP. His walk rate is almost 10%, and his K% is just a tick over 20%. I don't know how well he can hold onto those gains in MLB, but I do know that the three months in Tacoma have been time well spent. Ideally, he'd spend the whole year there, and make one last shot at being the Mariners Catcher of the Future Today in 2017. But this is (still, somehow) June, and that means nothing is ideal. Mike Zunino is back, and I actually think he might do ok. In case you needed a reminder, here is his skillset:
The Case For Mike Zunino Dot Gif pic.twitter.com/dSf2rpV4ko— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 30, 2016
One huge benefit never afforded Zunino in the past is that he's not coming to Seattle be a star, or even to start. Chris Iannetta is still the starter, and although I expect Zunino to play more than Steve Clevenger was it's still Iannetta's job more days than not. Brutal matchups can be skipped, days off to work with Edgar can be taken, and hopefully the great maw of The Void can be navigated around.
Mike Zunino is back, and I'm happy for him. 2015 was as bad a season as I have ever seen a major leaguer have to endure, and Zunino's talent remains more than sufficient to have a major league career. Like the 2016 Mariners as a whole, he has taken a weird ass route to get where he is, but at still only 25, he may be right on schedule.
The Bartender is back as well. The 2014 Mariners ride again!
Zunino and Wilhelmson up, Roach down, Clevenger to the DL.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) June 30, 2016