(Photo by Tim Casey/U. of Florida)
Here are some quotes from a press conference with Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara and general manager Jack Zduriencik on Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the Mariners’ first-round pick. Turns out they are well acquainted with Mike’s dad Greg, a former professional player (and Cal Golden Bear before that) who has been a long-time scout, currently with the Reds. He’s well known, and well-regarded, in the industry. Greg met his wife, Paulo, when he was playing in Italy, so there’s some jokes going around (OK, I’m the one starting them) about Alex Liddi sweet-talking Paulo when negotiations start.
Here’s what McNamara said he liked about Zunino: “There’s a lot I like about Mike Zunino. His character, his integrity, the family he comes from. We talk about it all the time in our meetings. He’s a winning player with character. Obviously, you have to have talent to be the No. 3 pick in the country. He’s a good defensive catcher, he has extra-base power, and he’s a leader.”
McNamara said he’s been on Zunino since he scouted him as a high school player. He was drafted by Oakland in the 30th round in 2009 but didn’t sign.
“I liked him as a high school player,” he said. “I liked his defense and leadership ability. I knew he had instincts. He comes from a baseball family. When he signed with Florida, we tracked him. We’ve watched him for three years. He’s steady. He doesn’t jump out and wow you like other players. What you get at the end of the day is a steady, hard-nosed tough kid who has power and can really catch.”
McNamara said he set up a dinner with the Zunino family during the offseason to meet Mike. He brought along three Mariner scouts. Zduriencik joked that the story he heard is that while everyone else was chatting, McNamara and Zunino were off in a corner talking about how to set up hitters.
Zduriencik went to see Zunino personally about a month and a half ago.
“He’s a nice looking player. He’s a tough kid. You think about that position. It’s very difficult to fill it as we know and everyone in baseball knows. When you have a kid with the pedigree and leadership skills, as well as the chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark, I thought it was a real nice package.”
Naturally, I asked him what were the ramifications for Jesus Montero.
“We’ll see what happens as we go forward,” he said. “You never have enough catchers. Fortunately, in our league, we have a DH. As you move forward, things happen. If you like player, you take him and let it fall into place. We do think this guy is a very nice receiver. We like Montero an awful lot. They’ll both be in our plans as we move forward.”
Zduriencik said Zunino could be on a similar timetable as Danny Hultzen, who was drafted No. 1 last year. The difference is that with the signing date moved up by a month, Zunino could play in the minors this year. Hultzen’s pro debut was in the Arizona Fall League, and he started this season at Double-A. Most people expect Hultzen to be in the big leagues at some point this year, so it’s not unrealistic to think the same about Zunino at some point next season.