As bossman Nathan wrote earlier this week, Mike Zunino has made some pretty severe adjustments and turned himself into one hell of a baseball player. Zunino was rushed through the minors, showed some flashes early, and then struggled under the supposedly watchful eye of Jack Z and the former front office. Zunino had the building blocks, and even after being torn down, there was enough of a foundation for him to be salvaged. He's one of the lucky ones.
We've talked about this many times, but it bears repeating. With the previous regime, prospect development was a tragic afterthought. The club saw their young players as men who needed to find their own way forward, instead of treating the farm as an educational and training system. Once ready to help on day one, there was no worry about day 100, or day 1000. Top prospects were wasted, and mid-tier prospects never had a fair chance to grow into something more.
Remember Dustin Ackley? When he was called up, he looked like he had the chance to be one of the better hitters in all of baseball. He was patient, able to wait back of balls and use maybe the quickest set of wrists I've ever seen to smack the ball long after it appeared to be past him. He had a flaw: he was beat by high-and-tight fastballs, a pitch placed where his wrists couldn't reach. Even when pitchers figured that in, Ackley was still a quality hitter, and could have worked on slowly improving over the course of the next year. Instead, the Mariners overreacted, looking to take away all of his strengths to fix his one weakness without giving him a chance to figuring things out in his second go-around. Ackley was never the same, reduced to an over-aggressive AAA slap hitter. There was no long-term plan for Ackley's development and no patience, and it showed.
Nick Franklin is another great example of previous failures. Called up at 22 with just a couple months of success in Triple-A under his belt, Franklin held his own. Sure, he struck out too much, but for a college-aged infielder, his power was impressive. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but after a mediocre MLB debut, it's taken three years and a new organization for him to look like the prospect he was promised to be, and the player it appeared he may become on arrival. Even in the minors after his debut, Franklin seemed off, forever broken.
There are countless stories of failed development under Jack and his team, and even more of which we'll never actually know. While we don't even have a full calendar year of evidence from Jerry & Co, the early returns are promising. When Chris Iannetta struggled or when Steve Clevinger went down, the temptation to recall Mikey Z was obvious; but instead of focusing on the next month, the club focused on the next three years, giving Zunino the lower-pressure reps needed to fully implement his new approach to hitting.
Maybe this is a one-time deal and Dipoto's organization will give in to other temptations -- as they sort of did with Edwin Diaz -- but as of now we're seeing a unified front, one that is concerned about the players and wants to give them the tools to succeed. This is what development should be, and that's good for business.