Drafting Mike Zunino is and isn’t a need pick

Jun 5, 2012, 10:12 AM | Updated: 2:06 pm

By James Osborn

Draft for need or draft for talent? This is the age-old debate that has haunted teams on both ends of the ledger. When drafting in the top five of a draft in any sport, the pressure intensifies exponentially.

So what is a team to do? Pick the guy they love the most or make sure that they build position by position?

By selecting Florida catcher Mike Zunino with the third overall pick on Monday, the Mariners did both.

Mike Zunino is considered the top collegiate position player in this year’s draft. (AP)

The Mariners may not have needed a catcher with Jesus Montero slotted as at least a part-time option behind the plate, but they didn’t need a starting pitcher last year when they drafted Danny Hultzen with their first pick. Wanna complain about that pick now that he’s the 13th best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com?

Zunino is the hitting version of Hultzen, who was taken with the second overall pick by the Mariners last year. ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law, a former Blue Jays executive himself, gave this evaluation of the newest Mariner: “Zunino’s approach is sound, and even if he ends up with average hit and power tools, that’s an above-average major league regular behind the plate.”

Not a bad review, but with a top five pick many fans would expect something closer to Ryan Braun than Russell Martin.

Forget coulda/shoulda when it comes to prospects in Major League Baseball. If draft experts were always right with their evaluations, we’d be living in a world where Aaron Curry is knocking down the doors of the Hall of Fame in the NFL, Greg Oden has three NBA titles to his name and Matt Bush (who?) leads the majors in strikeouts.

Instead of heavy doses of worry, Dr. Howdy prescribes one modest dose of dreaming. Imagine a 2014 roster that includes their top draft picks at catcher (Zunino), three starting pitchers (Hultzen, 2010 fourth-round pick James Paxton and 2010 first-round pick Taijuan Walker), second base (Ackley), shortstop (Nick Franklin, the second of two first-round picks in 2009) and third base (2009 third-round pick Kyle Seager).

Add to the list Jesus Montero at DH/backup catcher, Justin Smoak at first base, Michael Saunders in center field and a big-ticket free-agent corner outfielder — oh, and some guy named Felix Hernandez — and you might feel a little better than you do right now with a major-league roster that has a .236 team batting average. Especially considering that 2014 roster would have an average age of 24.4.

So for now, don’t worry about whether or not the Mariners drafted Zunino because they liked him or because they needed him. Dream a little bit about what the M’s could look like with baseball’s top prospects at nine spots on their 25-man roster.

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Drafting Mike Zunino is and isn’t a need pick