Mike Zunino Doesn’t Deserve Jeff Clement Comparisons

When the Mariners drafted Mike Zunino, a guy I assumed was at least third on their list, I was pretty uninspired. I think that Mark Appel is an absolute elite talent. I think that Mike Zunino is alright. Ultimately the value of an elite position prospect is higher than a pitcher though.

Correa and Buxton were taken ahead of Zunino. I had both of those guys rated significantly higher than Zunino, and considering the depth in what I consider to be a pretty talent-laden farm system full of high-ceiling guys as well as guys that are likely to make an impact in the near future, the Mariners were in a position to take a risk on a high schooler if the position presented itself.But Zunino is a different kind of catcher. He’s a college guy, which comes with the same advantages and caveats of all college players: his ceiling is much lower than some of his high school counterparts, and his floor is much higher. Zunino was a safe pick, but he was a safe pick in a draft that was pretty thin at the top. In this draft I felt that there were four players that didn’t have significant flaws that they could control: Zunino, Appel, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton.

And without the information that would come out later, I was a bit upset that the Mariners didn’t take Appel.


We’d later find out that Appel slipped because of what appears to be a self-inflicted flaw, reportedly having turned down a $6 million bonus from the Astros before the draft.

But when the Mariners did pick Zunino, I came up with a solution to a potential future problem.

That’s not to say there aren’t things to not like about Zunino. It seems like the general criticism of the pick, though, is somehow tied to a long-ago pick by an awful general manager of a guy named Jeff Clement.

Here’s the deal though, Zunino isn’t Jeff Clement. I get that there is an intellectual reason to be worried about a catcher this early:

They’re injury prone, and the position is arguably the most important defensive position on the field. Catchers don’t play 150 or more games per year. Most catchers that have great bats aren’t great defenders.

All of those are valid concerns. And they’re legitimate concerns that could apply to Zunino, but they aren’t in any way related to Clement. And they aren’t concerns that suddenly disintegrate into nothing if the team drafts a player at another position. Every team’s draftees have a certain level of risk inherent in their drafting.

Clement was a guy that was bat-first, and ended up being bat-only. Or nothing-only. He was a guy that needed to learn to play catcher, and a guy that had to figure out some holes in his swing. He was left-handed and had good college production, there was a chance he would play catcher. He didn’t end up fulfilling his potential, but his potential was driven by very different things than what drives Zunino’s potential.

Ultimately, Zunino’s potential comes from the fact that he has what figures to be a more than adequate glove. He’s not going to be Yadier Molina or Mike Matheny (I don’t know why I’m always so obsessed with Cardinals catchers) but he’ll stick behind the plate. And his bat figures to play. The main thing between Zunino and the majors, at this point, is the ability to call a game at the big league level, something he’s already begun learning in college.

I don’t personally buy into the comparisons between Zunino and elite offensive catchers like Mike Napoli and Buster Posey, but It’s not like he is a glove-only catcher.

He’s a catcher first, though. And he’s considered a leader, and a whole bunch of other adjectives that don’t mean much until he’s actually productive on the field. But he’s probably the fourth best prospect in this draft, all things considered.

And he’s not Jeff Clement. He’s a completely different type of player.

Will Mike Zunino ever make an All Star team?

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  • Anonymous

    Zunino wasn’t my first choice for the M’s either, I had Buxton and Giolito ahead of him.  However there is a lot to like with the guy and I feel better about him than I did about Walker and Hultzen right after they were announced.  I would like to see them give Jaso a long hard look too but mostly to improve his trade value.
    Appel and his man Boras shot themselves in the foot turning down $6MM.  The Astros got Correa to accept $4.8MM “30 seconds before they made their decision,” which was $1.5MM under slot and will probably allow them to sign Lance McCullers for over slot cost and keep him out of college.  Appel is either going to settle much lower then $6MM from Pittsburgh or go back to Stanford for another year.  Boras just found out the new rules are going to cost him some big bucks.  Teams are really signing their prospects fast under the new rules, which is a good thing.

    • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

      I like Giolito too, I think eh has the best raw stuff in the draft. I just can’t draft a guy taht high with a UCL sprain. I know Tommy John isn’t that big a deal anymore, but I’d still be worried. 

      • Anonymous

        Giolito would be a gamble but I liked the odds.  I got my numbers wrong on Correa.  He’s getting $4.8MM but the slot was valued at $7.2MM by MLB so the team saved $2.4MM, which is why they signed Correa instead of Appel.  Given the slot level Appel/Boras turning down $6MM was not unreasonable but it’s going to cost them a bunch.  The Astros signed the best bargain, not the best player.  This will impact future drafts as teams get figures expected before making a pick.

  • Sorgie

    Appel really isn’t better then Zunino he doesn’t have #1 type stuff and his arm was abused at Stanford. Montero can’t catch i don’t know if people have been watching but he is terrible at throwing runners out.

    • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

      We’ve been watching. He’s awful, lol. Appel’s innings are an issue, but he’s got heat and offspeed. Top of rotation stuff. Stanford pedigree too. 

      • Sorgie

        I liked Gausman,Giolito and Zimmer more then Appel just not a big fan i mean if he was a phenom no way he get’s past the Astro’s at #1.

      • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

        They wanted to draft him but he wanted too much money. Turned down $6 million. I like Giolito’s stuff more than anyone but he has a UCL sprain and hasn’t pitched since March. 

      • Sorge

        Exactly my point if he was a can’t miss ace the Astro’s would of gladly payed him they decided he was not and passed on him.

      • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

        Not necessarily true. Royals passed on many better prospects to take Hochevar a few years back. Signability is important to some teams.