Today the Mariners continued the parade of prospects that has been going on the past couple of seasons, bringing Mike Zunino up barely a year after they drafted him third overall.
For much of the blogosophere this has been seen as a desperation play by Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners front office. Juxtaposed with Zunino’s Triple-A performance, it’s hard to view it any other way.
Of course, this comes only weeks after the team demoted Jesus Montero, promoted Jesus Sucre, then promoted Brandon Bantz when Sucre got hurt. They still have Kelly Shoppach, and while Shoppach is generally a pretty decent backup, he’s hardly a guy that should catch every day. His bat really only plays well against lefties, and his defense is about average. The hope is that Zunino will be better in each area where Shoppach is deficient, which could signal and upgrade for a team that has been struggling.
This comes with the normal player development concerns of any early call-up, especially for a team that has been criticized for rushing Dustin Ackley and sticking with Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak for too long. Some of that becomes a circular argument when you look at the relative success of Michael Pineda and Kyle Seager despite early call-ups (Pineda’s injury notwithstanding).
Player development is fickle, and the attrition rate of top prospects in even the best organizations is pretty high. Will this ruin Zunino? The best answer, and the only answer, is “I don’t know.” The only guarantee is that if it flops the present regime in the front office will be vilified for yet another failed prospect. The reality may be, however, that they never be around to see the credit or blame. That makes this move a bit curious, and perhaps ostensibly a bit more of a consensus organizational move, rather than one made specifically by Jack Zduriencik, Eric Wedge, or Tom McNamara.
This feels a bit like in 2008 when Tyrone Willingham, then the Washington Huskies head coach, threw away Cody Bruns‘ redshirt in the name of present-day success. Bruns lost a year of eligibility and never met his full potential, and Willingham, who perhaps was too far in the grass to still have his hands on the steering wheel of such decisions, was axed after that season.
The Mariners won’t literally lose a year of Zunino’s services, as they’ve waited long enough to call him up to avoid losing a year of team control, but they’ve greatly increased the chances that he’ll be a Super Two candidate, as with basically no big-league ready organizational depth at catcher ahead of Zunino, the team has basically played its hand, and will likely be forced to keep Zunino up for the balance of the 2013 season.