Posted on June 4, 2012 at 5:10 PM
Monday, Jun 4 at 11:04 PM
SEATTLE -- When it was finally arranged for both Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara to see Florida's Mike Zunino catch in person, their plans were nearly derailed by Zunino catching all 16 innings of a 3-2 win over Georgia the night before.
The Mariners brain trust should not have worried. Without any question Zunino was back in there despite playing nearly five hours the night before.
"When he signed at Florida we tracked him and we watched him for three years. He doesn't jump out and wow you like some other players but what you get at the end of the day is a steady, hard-nosed, tough kid who has power and can really catch," McNamara said.
Considered the top collegiate position player available, the Mariners took Zunino with the No. 3 pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft on Monday. He is the first Florida player taken in the first round since Milwaukee selected catcher Matt LaPorta with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft.
All the debate about where Seattle would go with the selection was answered when Houston took Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa at No. 1 and Minnesota selected high school outfielder Byron Buxton at No. 2. With the Mariners going with pitching in the first round last year and taking Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, it was almost certain Seattle would take a hitter this time around.
"For me, my most important thing is I take pride in my defense. Whether it's calling games, or receiving or blocking, that is what really defines me as a player," Zunino said. "I want to be a good solid figure back there and help the pitchers out and then whatever I can do with the bat I just want to help the team out."
Zunino is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award for the second straight year. He was the Southeastern Conference player of the year in 2011 and was a first-team All-American in 2012 despite seeing his numbers slide from his stellar sophomore season. Heading into the NCAA super regionals this weekend, Zunino is hitting .316 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs this season for the Gators.
McNamara tracked Zunino when he was a high school prospect in south Florida and closely followed his career when he decided to play collegiately for the Gators. His sophomore season immediately launched Zunino to the top of most draft boards after he hit .371 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs and slugged .674.
His numbers were almost equal in 2012, although there was some concern among draft analysts when Zunino slipped and hit just .255 with 16 RBIs in 30 games during SEC play.
McNamara and the Mariners were not deterred, instead focused on Zunino's growth from a 30th-round pick coming out of high school to the No. 3 pick in the draft.
"I've matured so much from high school. I've learned there is a lot more to the game than just hitting, catching and throwing," Zunino said.
Zunino comes from a baseball family -- his father Greg is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds -- and Seattle was impressed by Zunino regularly calling his own game at Florida.
"I think everyone was sold on this kid's makeup and the other intangibles he brings to this position," Zduriencik said.
By selecting a catcher, the Mariners immediately opened themselves up to debate about the long-term future of Jesus Montero as a catcher. Montero, who came over in a trade with the New York Yankees last offseason, has split time between catching and being the Mariners' designated hitter this season.
And while Seattle is high on Montero as a catcher, he was acquired primarily because of his bat. Zduriencik said those issues will "work themselves out" in the future.
It was the third time in four years the Mariners selected in the top three of the draft. In 2009, the Mariners took second baseman Dustin Ackley at No. 2, then selected Hultzen last year.