(Florida catcher Mike Zunino connects for a two-run homer in a game against South Carolina. Photo by Associated Press)
(Here is today’s Mariner minor league report).
I’ve heard more than one person say the Mariners shouldn’t draft Florida catcher Mike Zunino with the No. 3 overall pick — as many, including both ESPN and Baseball America in their latest mock drafts, predict they will do on Monday — because they flamed out on Jeff Clement, a catcher they drafted No. 3 overall in 2005.
This doesn’t really make sense to me. It’s a different year, different brain-trust, different player. I don’t really see how their failures seven years ago relate to the success, or failure, of their draft pick in 2012. Zunino is widely regarded as the best college hitter in the draft, and if the Mariners have him atop their chart when their pick comes, they shouldn’t hesitate because of what happened to someone drafted by Bill Bavasi and Bob Fontaine Jr.
That said, it can’t be denied that the Mariners have a checkered history of drafting catchers. Their best catchers have, with just one exception, come from elsewhere. Dan Wilson was acquired in a trade with Cincinnati. Kenji Johjima was signed as a free agent from Japan. Bob Stinson came in the expansion draft. Bob Kearney , Scott Bradley, Larry Cox and Miguel Olivo came via trades (Olivo returned as a free agent). Their latest shining hope, Jesus Montero, also arrived via trade.
The one exception is Dave Valle, a second-round pick in 1978, who had a 10-year career with the Mariners. But Valle never made an All-Star team and, while a fine defensive catcher, had just a .235 career average with the Mariners.
Here is the complete list of catchers drafted by the Mariners who have caught 50 games with the team:
Dave Valle (2nd round, 1978): 798 games (second in franchise history to Wilson)
Rob Johnson (4th round, 2004): 155 games
Adam Moore (6th round, 2006): 67 games
Rene Rivera (2nd round, 2001): 52 games
The Mariners once had high hopes for Moore, but he’s had a series of injuries and is currently recovering from knee surgery. He missed most of last season after knee surgery. Johnson is now the backup catcher (and emergency pitcher — he worked one scoreless inning, with a strikeout, in a blowout game earlier this season) with the Mets. Rivera, 28, resurfaced last year with the Twins, hitting .144 in 45 games. He’s currently with their Triple-A team, hitting .193.
Clement, picked ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun, among others, in the talent-laden 2005 draft, wound up catching just 38 games for the Mariners before going to Pittsburgh in the 2009 trade that brought Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to Seattle. He hit .201 in 54 games with the Pirates in 2010 and is currently with their Triple-A team, splitting time between first base and DH.
In 1999, the Mariners used their first-round pick (11th overall) on high school catcher Ryan Christianson, who never made it past Triple-A, was suspended in 2005 after testing positive for steroids, and has been out of baseball since 2008.
In the now-defunct January draft, the Mariners selected catcher Mike Hood second overall in 1979. He never made it out of A ball. They chose catcher Keith Komeiji in the 1983 January draft (eighth overall). He, too, never made it past A ball.
Their most recent foray into drafting a catcher in a high round occurred in 2009, when they chose high schooler Steve Baron in the supplemental first round (33rd overall). He is currently with Class A Clinton, and has a .211 career average in 233 games. But still just 21, Baron has plenty of time to develop. The Mariners like his defensive skills. John Hicks, taken in the fourth round last year out of Virginia (where he caught Danny Hultzen), is off to a promising start. The 21-year-old Hicks hit .309 last year in 38 games for Clinton, and currently is hitting .301 with eight homers and 42 RBIs for hitter-friendly High Desert.
The Mariners do have one huge success story when it comes to drafting catchers — a three-time All-Star who became one of the most respected player of his generation and was a key piece on two World Series championship teams. That, of course, would be be Jason Varitek, astutely taken in the first round (14th overall) out of Georgia Tech by the Mariners in 1994, and unastutely traded to the Red Sox three years later.