‘Hot Stove’ podcast: Checking in with Mariners’ Mike Zunino; Andy McKay talks player development

Feb 2, 2016, 11:58 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2016, 10:20 am
Mike Zunino said he’s taken to heart what he’s heard from new director of player develo...
Mike Zunino said he's taken to heart what he's heard from new director of player development Andy McKay. (AP)
(AP)

If you missed the “Hot Stove” Tuesday night on 710 ESPN Seattle, never fear, we have a podcast.

Mariners broadcasters Dave Valle and Aaron Goldsmith joined me in-studio for two hours of baseball talk that kicked off with a chat with catcher Mike Zunino, who was one of the participants in the recent hitting summit in Peoria, Ariz.

“It was great,” he said. “All these guys know exactly what they are talking about and had some very good concepts. It was very simple, which I think is one of the biggest things when it comes to hitting is keeping everything simple and easy for the hitters to relate to.”

The hitting summit wasn’t Zunino’s first exposure to the new staff. Manager Scott Servais traveled to Florida to see him shortly after he was hired and the two have talked on the phone since. Zunino has also had conversations with the Mariners’ new director of player development, Andy McKay, on the mental side of the game.

“I’ve really taken a lot of the stuff he has said to heart knowing that the player I was and the stuff that I’ve done is still there,” he said. “It’s been nice to see that and use that to push me forward in my offseason workouts to continue to get better and work on what I need to.”

Up next was new pitcher Nathan Karns, who is clearly excited to come to the Mariners. Just listen.

Angels beat writer Alden Gonzalez wrapped up the first hour and gave his thoughts on the division and general manager Jerry Dipoto’s departure from Anaheim. He also answered the question of whether or not he feels the Angels can be better in 2016 after not making any big moves this winter.

The second hour of the show featured two segments with McKay. Two segments can barely scratch the surface with McKay, who is implementing new systems throughout the organization, but we did get a small glimpse into some of the philosophies that will drive the teaching at the minor-league levels.

“When most games are decided by three or fewer pitches, it comes down to competing and trying to win pitches,” he said. “That is the main focus of the mental game. That’s what you are trying to do, but how you would do it for each person is vastly different.”

McKay will also be heavily involved in deciding when to move players up in the system and said that there will be benchmarks that need to be accomplished and standards that need to be met before a player moves to the next level. All of this will take time.

“In general, I would like to move guys slower,” he said. “It takes a lot of at-bats and a lot of innings pitched to experience the things you need to experience. I want to see our players struggle. I want to see how they handle adversity. I want to see how a hitter handles an 0-for-19. It’s a skill to learn how to handle those things, how to get out of them. I want them to play on teams that lose five in a row and figure out how to stop it and how to get back on track and those are all things that you need time to experience in the minor-leagues, because if you are experiencing things for the first time in the major-leagues, it can get really rough for you really fast.”

The show wrapped up with a visit from Mariners senior marketing director Gregg Greene and his son Max, who stopped by to talk about the organization’s new kids initiatives, which are aimed at getting more kids playing ball. The Mariners will be active in encouraging parents to sign kids up for Little League and will provide information and maps for parents to find teams for their kids at mariners.com/playball. At the park there will be a new kids play area on the view level, which will include skills challenges, and the team will be giving away 100,000 Wiffle balls throughout the season. Last but not least, the Kids Club will be free this year. For more information on the kids initiatives and Kids Club, visit mariners.com/kids.

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