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.