The Mariners selected Florida Gators backstop Mike Zunino tonight, with the third overall pick of the 2012 MLB Draft. A polished, athletic college catcher boasting a resume packed with awards and accolades, Zunino left the Mariners enamored with his skills this Spring. The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, Zunino posted a .328 batting average and has belted 44 homeruns through 660 career at bats with the Gators.
University of Florida
Overall Future Potential: 57
In this year’s thin pool of catching prospects, Mike Zunino is a diamond in the rough. He’s a phenomenal ballplayer with an extraordinary track record and the trophy case to match. Before enrolling at Florida, he led his high school ball team to two consecutive Class 5A state championships and set his school’s single season homerun record twice. It was until his college career that he truly came in to his own however. After being honored twice while in high school, Zunino has been named an All-American in each of the three season’s he’s spent with the Gators. After a strong freshman season, his production exploded in 2010. He hit a whopping .371 with 19 home runs overall and ranked atop the SEC with .422 average and eight homeruns during conference play. He led the Gators to a conference championship and was named the 2011 SEC Player of the Year. His senior season has been just as impressive. He’s hitting a monster .323/.394/.649 with 16 home runs, and he’s a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award. For the second consecutive season, he’s also drawing heavy consideration for a Golden Spikes Award for the second consecutive season. Facing the nation’s most polished amateur competition, he’s totaled a .328 batting average through 660 career at bats with the Gators and he’s belted 44 home runs and 57 doubles.
Zunino is a rare athlete, especially for a catcher. Deviating from the traditional fire hydrant catcher mold, Zunino is built more like a puma. Standing at 6’2″, 200 pounds, he’s tall and carved out of wood, with a powerful core and strong hands. Blessed with above-average strength and body control, he’s a great receiver, and he’s made just three errors in all of 2012. The son a former minor league catcher, he knows how to frame pitches and his sharp reaction times make him a goalie-type blocker. He’s also a surprisingly skilled baserunner, capable of posting 60 yard dash times in the 6.8 to 6.9 range. He brings quick twitch athleticism to the diamond. Though his arm isn’t a weapon, he moves quickly and smoothly out of the crouch. He controls the running game and he’s capable of posting spectacular pop times of 1.8 to 1.9 seconds. He has a lightning quick release and he makes the most out of his average arm strength– allowing it to play a tick or two above.
Though Zunino is an accomplished defensive catcher behind the plate, his ability at the plate makes him a top prospect. Mechanically speaking, his swing strikes a balance between power and plate coverage. He shows above-average bat speed, and his hand and core strength allows him to drive offspeed pitches and to get-around on heat on the inside corner. He sets up with high hands and closed hips, similar to Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols, and uses a toe-tap to transfer his weight. He loads cleanly and keeps his hands quiet and separated from his lower-half. During his swing, he keeps his front hip closed as long as possible, keeps his hands inside of the ball and his head in the hitting zone– completely focused on the baseball. He drives pitches on all parts of the plate, to all fields, showing plus pull-power and solid homerun pop to (opposite) right field. A patient hitter, he’s prone to strikeouts but he shows nice pitch recognition and he can square up same-side breaking pitches. After excelling against premium college arms for three seasons, he’s well-prepared for a pro career. His ceiling may ultimately fall short of a Matt Wieters or Brian McCann, but he has the makings of a power hitting All-Star catcher none-the-less.
A long-time performer, Zunino’s combination of track record and tools should get him drafted within the first ten picks on draft day. He has an outside shot at the number two or three slots. Jim Callis of Baseball America speculates that Zunino could fall in to the very interested Pittsburgh Pirates.