Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino Still Looking For Steady Footing In Bigs

By Thom Tsang
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In retrospect, perhaps promoting a struggling top prospect from Triple-A to the bigs may not have been the best idea.

That’s something which might be on the Seattle Mariners‘ mind these days (even if their choices were limited), as their move to effectively replace one former top prospect behind the plate in Jesus Montero has resulted in an inauspicious (albeit early) start for another in Mike Zunino.

Now, 34 PA from Zunino is obviously nothing to sound the alarms over, but his .188/.235/.313 triple-slash through his first nine MLB games might suggest that well … he’s just a little lost at the plate.

It’s not exactly like this was unexpected, either. After coming out of the gate in his first Triple-A season with guns blazing, hammering four homers in his first five games, the top prospect was struggling with plate discipline issues by the time he’d been called up, owning a poor 0.24 BB/K thanks to a 28.4 percent strikeout rate, a dramatic spike from the 12.3 percent he posted in Double-A last year.

And if for some reason, the move to the next level of difficult was going to change that … well, that logic seems to have failed here.

Although Zunino has flashed his power potential for the M’s with a double and a home run already, his 0.22 BB/K (5.9 percent walk rate, 26.5 percent strikeout rate) over his small sample of plate appearances is hardly a recipe for sustained success. He’s hitting line drives at a not-great 17.4 percent with relatively little oomph, and is simply flailing away with a 17.1 percent whiff rate.

Can/will he improve with more reps? It’s very likely, considering the prodigal talent that made him arguably the best backstop prospect in the bigs heading into this season, and there were signs that he was heating back up in Triple-A, with the 22-year-old hitting in four of his last five games just before his call-up.

However, it’s the risk that things could go south in a hurry that the Mariners have to be more concerned here.

Make no mistake: Zunino is the team’s catcher of the future, and trying to make that future happen now prematurely could set the youngster back in more ways than one. Plate discipline issues can spiral into mechanical ones, and with the luck that the M’s have had with their top young hitters (see also: Dustin Ackley), they can’t really afford too many more wrong moves here.

Of course, running out Henry Blanco on a nightly basis would be akin to throwing in the towel on the season, so the team is looking at a rock on one side and a hard place on the other …

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