Prospect Watch: Mike Zunino

Once a steady feature in these hallowed pages, Prospect Watch has taken a bit of a back seat since it last appeared back in February! Various other items have come and gone – Spring Training, the start of the MLB season, Fantasy Baseball, loads of different card products – but NO MORE!!

Prospect Watch IS BACK!!

And who better to start us off again than the #3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft – Seattle Mariners prospect, Mike Zunino.

Zunino is a 6’2″, 220lb player from the University of Florida. Known for his excellent defense, Zunino has a good glove, is well built and has excellent leadership ability, drawing a number of comparisons to Red Sox stalwart, Jason Varitek.

One of the best quotes I’ve seen about Zunino was attributed to Jason Churchill last year in AA Jackson, who said – “Zunino is already the leader of this team. That seems to have taken place about four seconds after he got here.”

The son of ex-Yankee-turned-scout Greg Zunino, Mike has spent most of his early life around ballparks and developed a keen eye for the game. He was originally selected in the 29th Round of the 2009 Draft by the A’s but elected to go to Florida instead, where he spent the next few years developing his game.

Despite starting the 2013 season at the Mariner’s AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, Zunino has been tearing away at the ball in the early part of the season and has already driven in 29 runs in only 23 games, with 5 home runs, as I write this. He does have a propensity to strike out a lot with 31 whiffs in 89 ABs and his batting average currently sits at an anaemic .195.

Here’s what the guys over at Baseball Prospect Nation have to say about him –

Body (6-2, 220): Excellent build with good muscularity and flexibility. Thick build that screams catcher and durability. Works hard to maintain his body.

Hit: Excellent balance throughout swing. Shifts weight slightly to back leg to load and triggers hands consistently as the pitcher starts toward the plate. Simple, compact path to the hitting zone with explosive bat speed. Has learned to stay back on the ball and work the other way, improving his ability to hit breaking balls and change-ups. Has solid feel for the barrel with some ability to adjust mid-pitch. Doesn’t have much swing and miss but will need to evolve against better breaking balls in pro ball. Has plenty of hit projection given bat speed, hand-eye coordination and natural feel for his swing. Huge fan of the swing. Believe he could approach .300 at his peak. Grade – 40/70

Power: Plenty of strength and plus-plus bat speed. Ability to drive the ball to all fields and get it over the fence. Doesn’t have a ton of loft or leverage in his swing but should still have average home-run power. Wears out the gaps and has potential to hit 30+ doubles a year. Added loft in swing is possible but may come with a little less contact. Grade (raw power) – 40/50

Arm: Quick release with smooth transfer from glove to hand. Gets rid of the ball quickly. Ball comes out of his hand cleanly and almost appears to throw “down” to second base. Easy plus arm strength with good accuracy. Grade – 60/60

Fielding: Tons of improvement over the last three years. Good receiver that knows how to frame pitches and help his pitchers. Reads hitters well and shows some aptitude for calling a game. Good blocker that is aggressive behind the plate with good movements and solid athleticism. Excellent leader that commands the pitching staff and gets the most from his pitchers. Could still improve consistency with receiving and blocking, which should come easily with pro instruction. Potential impact defender. Grade – 50/60

Speed: Runs pretty well for a catcher but will likely slow down as he matures and gets more innings behind the plate. Fringe-average runner now that can get to average once underway. Projects to be below average. Grade – 50/40

Summation: Potential plus defender with receiving, throwing and leadership ability. Should be a standout defender long term. Has excellent feel for hitting and a good concept of the strike zone. Makes easy hard contact and has started to use the whole field better. Will need minimal adjustments to hit as a pro and should hit right out of the gate. Power has some projection though I see him as more of a big doubles hitter with average home run pop. Star potential that contributes in every facet on the field and is a leader off the field.

Relative Risk: Moderate. Borderline “low” risk level. Injury risk of all catchers keeps him in the moderate zone. Has easy hit and defensive projection that should make him a big league starter.

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Mike Zunino is an incredibly hot ticket in the prospect card world at the moment, with most of his cards shifting for some heavy coin on eBay!

His first official Bowman card, along with its multitude of parallels, appeared in 2012 Bowman Draft. His autographed prospect card (pictured above) is the one to have but you’ll have to dig deep to be able to afford it. He’s also appeared in 2012 Bowman Sterling and 2012 Panini Elite Extra Edition, in all his autographed and parallel glory.

Already a highly respected young player, Zunino will be the cornerstone of a developing Mariners team for a good few years, as well as being a hit with collectors!

Next on Prospect Watch – A look at some of the top prospects from 2013 Bowman Baseball, due to hit the stores on Wednesday 8th May

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