BY Adam Lewis 06:15PM 06/04/2012

Mariners stick to form, take Florida catcher

A home-cooked meal at the family home helped influence the Mariners’ choice of Mike Zunino, considered by many draft experts as the most polished hitter of the 2012 draft class.

“He doesn’t jump out and wow you like some other players,” scouting director Tom McNamara said after the pick was made at the club’s Safeco Field offices.  ”What you got at the end of the day is a steady, hard-nosed, tough kid who has got power and can really catch.”

A semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, the Dick Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award, Zunino was named a Louisville Slugger All-America Thursday by Collegiate Baseball.  The 2011 SEC Player of the Year is hitting .316 with with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs this season for the Gators.

“There’s a lot I like,” said McNamara.  ”Character, integrity and the family he comes from.  We talk about all the time in our meetings (how) he’s a winning player with character.”

Similar to most high school athletes who experience recruiting, the bond between Zunino and the organization took off when Zduriencik and McNamara shared a dinner with Zunino and his family at their home in Coral Gables, FL.

“They were the only team that had done that.  It definitely showed that they had interest,” Zunino said by phone of the home-cooked meal for the Mariners execs.  ”It’s just one of those things that helped me breathe a little easier.”

Zunino is also a two-time first-team All-SEC first-team selection. A two-time SEC All-Defensive Team pick,  Zunino posted a .993 fielding percentage while throwing out 45 of the 144 runners who tried to steal on him during his Gator career.

“I just want to be a well-rounded player,” he said.  ”For me my most important thing is I take pride in my defense.  Whether it’s calling games, or receiving or throwing or blocking, that’s what really defines me as a player.”

In his three-year college career, the backstop hit .325 with 46 home runs and 146 RBIs.

Already well-versed in baseball’s clichéd team-first rhetoric, Zunino hesitated to talk up his hitting ability.

“Anything I can do with the bat I just try to help the team out,” he said.

Zduriencik said the organization couldn’t pass up the opportunity to select an elite defensive catcher with power.

His leadership ability didn’t hurt either.

“When you have a kid with this type of pedigree and leadership skills as well as a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark I thought it was a real nice package,” Zduriencik said. “Sitting in with scouts all week long I think everyone was sold on this kid’s makeup and intangibles (he) brings to the plate at that position.”

Since his father, Greg, is an area scout for the Cincinnati Reds in Florida, Zduriencik and McNamara acknowledged their familiarity with Zunino and his family helped shape their selection.

“His dad and I had talks when Mike was a senior in high school.  He was a high school player that was heavily scouted then,” McNamara said.

Zduriencik said he has known the family for more than 25 years.

“It’s no secret.  This kid’s been around the game,” he said.  ”His father, having scouted for several clubs, knows everyone in the industry.”

No. 1-ranked Florida went 3-0 over the weekend in their NCAA regional after blowing out Georgia Tech 15-3 Sunday night at McKethan Stadium. Zunino was named to the all-tourney team. The Gators host the super regional this weekend.

Monday marked the second time Zunino has been drafted.  The graduate of the ironically  named Mariner High School was selected in the 30th round of the 2009 June draft, but elected to attend Florida.


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