BY Art Thiel 08:29PM 06/04/2012

Thiel: Zunino nice pick — as are many Mariners

In a time when the Mariners have a lot of potentially good players but no game-breakers, the University of Florida catcher should fit right in.

Florida catcher Mike Zunino looks like a solid cacher but not a game-changer. / Tiim Casey, Gator Country

Player development in baseball is like no other. Elite players are often years in the making, but on one day early in their baseball lives, a decision is made. Player and the club are judged forever on that moment.

One would think baseball could improve on the practices of marriage. It has not.

Marriage, in fact, has one big advantage over baseball: A one-spouse maximum. You may have consecutive, but not concurrent.

It is brought up now, on the day of the annual draft, because the Mariners are married, figuratively, to a lot of players who are close in youth and talent. Unfortunately, they are not very close to contention.

Or as general manager Jack Zduriencik put it Monday:

“How many young guys can you play?”

By all accounts, the draft of Mike Zunino, a 21-year-old catcher from the University of Florida, is a substantive choice — strong, hardnosed, smart, a team leader from a baseball family who plays well the most difficult position in the game. But not a game-changing talent.

Like most all of the current young Mariners.

Zunino, a good catcher who projects to be a so-so hitter, isn’t going to be a candidate for a major-league roster for probably three years. Meantime, the Mariners have to find at-bats and innings for a passel of players who were earlier Zuninos, including Jesus Montero, 22, a hitter who may or may not also be a catcher.

Without a prime-time hitter in the middle, the young Mariners on the 2012 roster are candidates to hit everywhere, and not well, nor at all.

That’s why this season is so hard, and the 24-32 mark entering Monday’s game in Anaheim only a partial reflection of it.

The addition of a fifth playoff team in each league this season has stretched the definition of contention, although Zduriencik knows it hasn’t quite stretched to include the Mariners.

“First and foremost we gotta get back in this thing,” he said. “We’re playing better, and  that’s fun to see. The next few weeks will define ourselves a little more. Then you have to be realistic about what we’re trying to do, whether it’s bringing up kids or adding something.”

A five-game winning streak could set off the Mariners on a false belief that 2012 is worth pursuing. Even smart guys like Zduriencik knows how easy it is to succumb.

“Every week is different,” he said. “If you talked to me three weeks ago, I’d have felt differently than I do now.”

The problem is that, with so many inexperienced players having to learn simultaneously at the major league level, the daily lineup card is an adventure in denial for someone. Zduriencik knows in his head that players can’t be pushed to adapt more quickly, but his heart — and his wallet, which prefers employment — gets the urge to make a run.

“If we really make some strides this year . . .” he said, then seemed to catch himself. “We don’t know who’s going to get be called up this year, or whether we get into a race for the final wild card.

“The worst thing you can do is set a timetable for a player. The player will dictate his timetable. To say, ‘July 1 we’ll do something,’  is foolish.”

But the urge to give major league experience to many in strong. Even with pitchers. As much as it would dismay fans and the Mariners to see Felix Hernandez put on the 15-day disabled list to help heal his bothersome back problems — not happening yet, according to Zduriencik –  it would create opportunity for a couple of spot starts for one of the younger stars in the minors.

As for sorting out the catchers, Zunino, once signed, probably will be invited to the major league camp next spring for a courtesy look –  Zduriencik trotted out the old bromide, “You can never have too many catchers.”

But it would be handy for Wedge to have one he can have for 120 games behind the plate. Just as it would be in left field, DH, third base, shortstop and closer. But that’s not for this season. Maybe for next season.

As with marriages, there always the hope that if you have enough of them, one will work out.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    Hearing Tom McNamara describe Zunino made me think the Mariners had just drafted………Dan Wilson. Dan was a serviceable catcher but having the #3 pick makes one expect a little more perhaps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

      I was certainly surprised at the press conference when McNamara said, “He’s not going to wow you.”  After watching a bunch of video on him, I do think he has more upside offensively than a Dan Wilson.  The kid has 18 home runs in about 70 games at Florida this year.  Considering college’s move to the new BBCOR bats, (which basically are like wood) that is pretty impressive.  

      • Artthiel

         I think McNamara is willing to undersell a bit so there’s no threat to Montero, who’s nearly the same age but has much more Mariners treasure invested in him. 

    • Artthiel

       This may prove to be one of the weakest drafts in recent memory. Zunino’s ceiling is probably major league average, which for the Mariners is great relative to their post-Wilson history.

  • Jamo57

    Hearing Tom McNamara describe Zunino made me think the Mariners had just drafted………Dan Wilson. Dan was a serviceable catcher but having the #3 pick makes one expect a little more perhaps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

      I was certainly surprised at the press conference when McNamara said, “He’s not going to wow you.”  After watching a bunch of video on him, I do think he has more upside offensively than a Dan Wilson.  The kid has 18 home runs in about 70 games at Florida this year.  Considering college’s move to the new BBCOR bats, (which basically are like wood) that is pretty impressive.  

      • Artthiel

         I think McNamara is willing to undersell a bit so there’s no threat to Montero, who’s nearly the same age but has much more Mariners treasure invested in him. 

    • Artthiel

       This may prove to be one of the weakest drafts in recent memory. Zunino’s ceiling is probably major league average, which for the Mariners is great relative to their post-Wilson history.

  • jafabian

    Zunino is 21 years old?  So he’s leaving college early?  

    By drafting him I guess the M’s either project Montero as a DH, plan to at least entertain trades for either him oor Zunino sometimes down the road or have concerns that Montero just can’t seem to hit at Safeco.  Kind of hoping for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel but the M’s have a pretty full cupboard on pitchers right now.  Hope they end up stocking up on some leadoff hitter types.

    • Artthiel

      He’s a third-year player, which is the case with most baseball draftees out of college. He was drafted by Oakland in 09 and chose college. Baseball rules stipulate that a player is not eligible to be re-drafted again for three seasons, a smart agreement between MLB and NCAA. As I wrote above, he’s insurance against Montero’s failure as a catcher.

  • jafabian

    Zunino is 21 years old?  So he’s leaving college early?  

    By drafting him I guess the M’s either project Montero as a DH, plan to at least entertain trades for either him oor Zunino sometimes down the road or have concerns that Montero just can’t seem to hit at Safeco.  Kind of hoping for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel but the M’s have a pretty full cupboard on pitchers right now.  Hope they end up stocking up on some leadoff hitter types.

    • Artthiel

      He’s a third-year player, which is the case with most baseball draftees out of college. He was drafted by Oakland in 09 and chose college. Baseball rules stipulate that a player is not eligible to be re-drafted again for three seasons, a smart agreement between MLB and NCAA. As I wrote above, he’s insurance against Montero’s failure as a catcher.

  • Tian Biao

    Seems like catchers learn to hit later than other positions; I suppose the Ms are hoping he can be a solid defensive catcher and game-caller, and progress as a hitter later. Time will tell, I suppose; odds are against him, but you never know. of course ya gotta have a catcher, otherwise the ball rolls to the backstop on every pitch, or hits the umpire, which would not be a bad thing, given their general lameness.

    also, yeah, as jafabian says, did the kid graduate, or what?

    • Artthiel

       The positions demands 1) game management 2) defensive skill 3) hitting, in that order. That’s why Olivo hangs on. He’s good at No. 1. Zunino’s baseball IQ is off the charts.

  • Tian Biao

    Seems like catchers learn to hit later than other positions; I suppose the Ms are hoping he can be a solid defensive catcher and game-caller, and progress as a hitter later. Time will tell, I suppose; odds are against him, but you never know. of course ya gotta have a catcher, otherwise the ball rolls to the backstop on every pitch, or hits the umpire, which would not be a bad thing, given their general lameness.

    also, yeah, as jafabian says, did the kid graduate, or what?

    • Artthiel

       The positions demands 1) game management 2) defensive skill 3) hitting, in that order. That’s why Olivo hangs on. He’s good at No. 1. Zunino’s baseball IQ is off the charts.

  • RadioGuy

    I think 21 is a fairly average age for a college senior.  I was 21 when my college class graduated…without me (I had a good time in college, which was ultimately the problem).

    I think the choice of Zunino over Appel means management isn’t sold on Montero as an everyday catcher.  The description of Zunino doesn’t remind me of Dan Wilson as much as Jason Varitek, but the point is that defensively Zunino has to be considered ahead of Montero, perhaps even right now.  They’ll keep working with Montero behind the plate, but I do think his future is at DH.

    • Artthiel

       Zunino is an insurance policy in case of Montero failure behind the plate — or if the Mariners can’t keep him as he nears FA in five years. But the Mariners have not done well in drafting catchers. Could be that they are overmatched — or overdue to hit one.

  • RadioGuy

    I think 21 is a fairly average age for a college senior.  I was 21 when my college class graduated…without me (I had a good time in college, which was ultimately the problem).

    I think the choice of Zunino over Appel means management isn’t sold on Montero as an everyday catcher.  The description of Zunino doesn’t remind me of Dan Wilson as much as Jason Varitek, but the point is that defensively Zunino has to be considered ahead of Montero, perhaps even right now.  They’ll keep working with Montero behind the plate, but I do think his future is at DH.

    • Artthiel

       Zunino is an insurance policy in case of Montero failure behind the plate — or if the Mariners can’t keep him as he nears FA in five years. But the Mariners have not done well in drafting catchers. Could be that they are overmatched — or overdue to hit one.