Jesus Montero and his Mariners teammates and coaches were sitting in the spacious visitors’ clubhouse here in Anaheim, lounging on sofas in front of a big-screen TV watching today’s June amateur player draft.
The Mariners picked third overall and you could hear a pin drop as commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the microphome to announce Seattle’s selection.
When Selig said the Mariners had taken catcher Mike Zunino from the Universtiy of Florida, the room exploded with howls of laughter and taunts — most of it aimed at catcher Montero.
“He’s coming to get you!” bullpen coach Jaime Navarro yelled from across the room in broken English, jabbing his finger in Montero’s direction and sending the other players into laughing spasms.
Felix Hernandez could be heard yelling, from around the corner, that Montero was “going to Pulaski!” That’s where the team’s advanced rookie level affiliate is located.
Bullpen catcher Jason Phillips stood up, looked at his watch and announced to the catchers: “OK, we’ve got some early work tomorrow, boys!”
Bullpen coach Navarro had disappeared around the corner in the vicinity of the coaches’ room. Then, he came back out and yelled to Montero: “Hey, (Jeff) Datz wants to talk to you!”
Datz, the team’s third base coach, is also in charge of the catchers.
More laughter ensued.
So, Montero will pretty much be the butt of jokes all day.
The selection of Zunino does not necessarily mean the Mariners have given up on Montero — or even Class AAA catcher Adam Moore — as backstops of the future. Think of it more as a hedge of their bets.
Photo Credit: AP
This way, they have another catching talent in their system who should be big league ready in a couple of years. If Montero doesn’t pan out behind the plate, they can hope that Moore or Zunino can step in.
And if Montero does blossom into an everyday catcher, the Mariners would have strong trade options.
As has been mentioned before by countless analysts, teams rarely draft for need. The reason being, by the time a player is ready for the big leagues, the needs of the drafting club will have often changed.
So, chances are very strong indeed that the Mariners simply viewed Zunino as the best talent still left on the table.
The New York Yankees had a similar “problem” of too many catching prospects. Their solution last winter was to deal Montero to Seattle for pitcher Michael Pineda, who, until his injury, looked like a pretty good haul.
So, if somewhere down the road, the Mariners wind up having to trade one of their catchers, getting another team’s second best starting pitcher and a rookie all-star to-boot is a pretty good haul. Would be akin to scoring a top-five draft pick while knowing he’s actually made it to the big leagues and thrived.
Not bad, I say.
Plus, this organzation needs more power bats in the upper minor league levels. Zunino looks like he could be one of those, drawing early comparisons to Jason Varitek.