By Brent Stecker
Top Mariners catching prospect Mike Zunino will make his MLB debut Wednesday, becoming the first position player from the 2012 draft to do so. But even more so than recent rookie phenoms like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper or the Angels’ Mike Trout, there are big question marks surrounding the 22-year-old’s arrival to the big leagues.
Mariners rookie catcher Mike Zunino says his struggles at Triple-A Tacoma were more of a product of an overly aggressive approach than an inability to hit curveballs. (AP)
Zunino joined “Wyman, Mike and Moore” prior to Thursday’s game against the Astros and addressed some of those questions including a recent slump at Triple-A Tacoma that some said stemmed from an inability to hit curveballs.
“It’s just pitch selection, not necessarily just (curveballs),” Zunino said. “It’s one of those things where if you don’t get good pitches to hit and you try to do too much, you’re just gonna chase pitches out of the zone. I always think I’ve been able to recognize curveballs and off-speed pitches fairly well and hit them fairly well.
“I just think it was poor approach and being too aggressive.”
Zunino rebounded for the Rainiers to the point that he leaves 11 home runs, 43 RBIs and an .806 OPS in 47 games on the stat sheet in Tacoma.
“I think it’s one of those where if you get your mind racing it sorta goes down pretty quick and it spirals. I just did a couple things, tried to stay focused and get my swing back on plane, and I did that,” said Zunino. “I worked with Howard Johnson a lot, our hitting coach (at Tacoma), and he helped me a lot. It was just one of those things, just trying to keep things simple, and keep my approach simple also.”
With both Jesus Sucre and Jesus Montero nursing injuries, Zunino will split time with Kelly Shoppach for the foreseeable future behind the plate. Another question has been whether he’s ready to call a Major League game, but luckily for him he’ll start off his career catching former Rainiers teammate Jeremy Bonderman.
“I’ve been able to catch Jeremy Bonderman a couple times, so I have a little bit of familiarity with him, so hopefully that helps me out some,” he said.
Zunino has just 91 games of minor-league service under his belt, and considering the recent struggles of highly-touted prospects like Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak, fans and analysts alike have wondered whether Zunino was rushed too quickly to the Mariners. For his part, Zunino has tried to avoid the talk.
“I have no clue,” he said in response to when he expected to be called up to Seattle. “I never really put a timetable on anything. I just went out there and tried to get better everyday, and whenever they thought suited best, that’s when I was gonna be ready. It just happened to be pretty soon, and I hope I can come here and contribute.”