This year is off to a much calmer start for Seattle Mariners prospect Mike Zunino. Then again, 2013 is just beginning and it probably won’t stay calm for long, especially if Zunino keeps taking big steps in his development. It’s not much of a stretch to think Zunino drops the prospect tag and simply becomes an everyday player for the Mariners this season.
2012 was a whirlwind for Mike Zunino. He started the year at the University of Florida where he hit .371 with 19 home runs and 69 runs batted in. Those numbers were good enough to earn Zunino the Golden Spikes Award as the best college player in the country, and his sensational season led to him being selected by the Seattle Mariners third overall in the draft. Zunino was then shipped to the Single-A Everett AquaSox (that’s when I first met him) where he hit .373 with 10 home runs in just 29 games before a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville. Zunino continued to rake for the Suns, hitting .333 with 3 home runs before the season came to an end 15 games later.
“2012 was pretty crazy,” Zunino told us at Mariners FanFest last weekend. “It was nice to take a deep breath and relax once the year ended, but it was a fun year and a good experience.”
The year was clearly big for Mike Zunino on the field, but it was also a huge summer for him off the diamond. Zunino married his high school sweetheart Alyssa Barry in October. The wedding happened in Florida, but the honeymoon was cut short thanks to — you guessed it – baseball. Mike and Alyssa had one night to celebrate at a hotel on the beach, and then packed up their stuff and left for the Arizona Fall League the next day.
“I told her that I’ll take her on an extended [honeymoon] after this season,” Zunino said. “She deserves it for putting up with everything that’s going on.”
Mike Zunino continued to shine in the Arizona Fall League. In 19 games with the Peoria Javelinas, he hit .288 with 2 home runs and 15 runs batted in. His overall 2012 performance was more than enough for the Mariners to invite him to big league Spring Training this season. He reports to camp in Arizona with pitchers and catchers on February 12th.
“I’m obviously going out there to compete at the best of my ability,” said Zunino. “I’m just looking forward to meeting all the guys, getting to know the pitching staff and just learning the ropes.”
Mike Zunino is clearly on the fast track to the Major Leagues. He was pegged as the Mariners top prospect by Baseball America in the offseason. The magazine compared Zunino to former Boston Red Sox star (and M’s first round draft pick) Jason Varitek, saying Zunino has “All-Star potential as a middle-of-the-order hitter.” Most analysts expect to see Zunino in the big leagues at some point in 2013. As for Zunino, he would rather not think about it:
“I don’t have a say in the end,” he said. “It’s nice because I can just continue to work hard and when they think I’m ready, that’s when the jump will be made. I’m just going out there and playing to the best of my abilities everyday.”
It takes a unique player to go from the college ranks to the big leagues in less than a year, but Mike Zunino has the skill and approach to make it happen. If a promotion to the majors doesn’t happen in 2013 (which would be a huge surprise to me), his Major League Debut is bound to come in 2014. At this rate, Zunino isn’t giving the Mariners much of an option. If he stays healthy, they’ll have to call him up sooner or later, because there’s no stopping a train going full speed down the tracks.
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