Started hearing rumblings on the internet awhile ago, and now I’ve gotten it confirmed: Catcher Mike Zunino, the Mariners’ top prospect — at least their top non-pitcher — is getting the call to the major leagues. In fact, I’m told from someone who would know that he’s catching a 1:30 p.m. plane from Las Vegas, where Tacoma is playing tonight, and should arrive in Seattle mid-afternoon.
Zunino’s callup reflects both the Mariners’ need to beef up their hitting, and their need to beef up their catching depth. With Jesus Sucre out, too much of the burden has fallen on Kelly Shoppach, with manager Eric Wedge reluctant to use Brandon Bantz.
It’s been exactly a year since Zunino was drafted No. 3 overall out of the University of Florida, so it has been a meteoric rise to the big leagues — too fast, some would probably say. According to a tweet from Jim Callis of Baseball America, he’s the first position player from the 2012 draft to make the majors (there have been five pitchers). Zunino was No. 17 on BA’s preseason list of the top 100 prospects in the minor leagues. Zunino has provided great production with the Rainiers — 11 homers and 43 RBIs, with a .503 slugging percentage in 47 games. But his average stands at .238 after a torrid start, and he’s struck out 59 times in 185 at-bats.
Zunino will have to be added to the 40-man roster, but that won’t be a big problem. Bantz can just be taken off. They will also have to use up an option for this season if they send him back down — but if he’s as good as they hope, optioning him won’t be a big issue down the road, either. This could set Zunino up for Super 2 arbitration status after the 2015 season if he’s up for good, but if the plan is to send him back down when Sucre gets healthy, that won’t be an issue, either.
One thing for certain: The Mariners just got a lot more interesting.