Mike Zunino doesn’t just appear to be on a fast track to the big leagues. The former Florida Gators catcher is hitting his way through hyperspace.
After being taken as the third overall pick by Seattle in this year’s MLB Draft, Zunino has bulldozed his way through the Mariners’ Low-A affiliate Everett AquaSox with a .375 batting average, 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in only 29 games and has thrown out 44 percent of would-be base stealers.
Zunino’s .474 on-base percentage and .736 slugging percentage for a 1.210 OPS at Everett has granted him a late summer promotion to the Mariners Double-A affiliate Jackson Generals with some predicting a callup to the big club in 2013.
Zunino is 4-for-8 with a double and an RBI in three games for the Generals.
According to the Seattle Times, Zunino’s performance is similar to that of San Francisco slugging catcher Buster Posey.
Both had stellar college careers, including Golden Spikes and Johnny Bench Awards, while being top-5 picks in their respective drafts.
However, in 2008 Posey — drafted out of FSU — didn’t sign his professional contract until mid-August, playing only seven games for the Arizona rookie league Giants and three games with Low-A affiliate Salem-Keizer.
Posey compiled a .351 average with one home run and six RBIs through both leagues.
In 2009, Posey tore up both Single-A and Triple-A, finishing with a .325 average, 18 home runs and 80 RBIs in 115 games earning him a Sept. 2 call-up, eventually helping the Giants win the World Series in 2010.
Zunino is poised to surpass Posey’s impressive numbers if he continues his torrid pace in the Mariners’ system. After 115 games, Zunino could be around the 35-40 home-run range with nearly 120 RBIs.
Considering the Mariners’ catching situation at the big league level, Zunino’s success in the minor leagues could pay large dividends quickly.
Seattle is sporting three catchers on its 25-man roster. Current starting catcher Miguel Olivo is hitting just .218 with a miniscule .231 on-base percentage, nine home runs and 24 RBIs while backups Jesus Montero and John Jaso have seen most of their playing time at designated hitter.
Jaso has been one of the team’s more consistent hitters with a .292 average, eight home runs and 38 RBIs and Montero is hitting .266 and is second on the club with 12 home runs.
But both Jaso and Montero have been tagged defensive liabilities throughout their young careers. Jaso has only thrown out 26 percent of would-be base stealers this year, Montero’s percentage is even lower at 22 with Olivo’s percentage at 32.
If Zunino continues to improve as the competition around him grows stronger, it would be no surprise to see him in a Seattle uniform some time next season.