The Seattle Mariners are opening up Spring Training with high hopes for 2014 but will need major contributions from some young stars to get it done. Most important among those young stars is the team’s “catcher of the future” Mike Zunino who was pushed through the minor leagues on a fast track to join the major league team in 2013. For Seattle, the future is now as they prepare to make Zunino the every-day catcher this season but can Zunino prove he’s up to the challenge this spring?
Last year, the Mariners turned the starting catching duties over to another young prospect in Jesus Montero who had glaring defensive deficiencies that kept him from being successful behind the plate. In all, seven different catchers started games for the M’s last season with Zunino ultimately putting in the most time in the starting lineup with 52 games played. He showed excellent leadership and defensive instincts behind the plate but his offensive production was a bit behind, which is to be expected from 22-year-old with minimal professional experience.
This spring, Zunino will have to show that he’s developed his plate discipline during the offseason and put his broken wrist from last season behind him. Improving his ability to hit off-speed pitches and his power potential will go a long way in determining if he’s ready to be the every-day catcher in the major leagues this season. He’s a smart prospect with an unrivaled work ethic to develop but it’s left to be seen whether he’s ready to a major-league catcher in 2014.
If Zunino struggles at the plate early in the season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team sends him down the Triple A for more seasoning. That wouldn’t hurt Zunino’s status as the team’s catcher of the future but it would mean that future was put on hold for at least another year. In that case, the M’s would turn to veteran John Buck as the primary backstop this season. He has experience as a starter and possesses a bit of pop in his bat and is a decent defensive catcher.
The team will give Zunino every chance, however, to prove this spring that he’s ready to be the man behind the plate for the Mariners. Is Zunino ready to take on that responsibility? We’ll find out during Spring Training.