The Tampa Bay Rays acquired their new starting catcher earlier this week in the form of Mike Zunino from the Seattle Mariners. He is known for his boom or bust bat and his excellent defensive ability, but who is the man behind the mask?
When the Tampa Bay Rays traded outfielders Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley to the Seattle Mariners earlier this week to acquire catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia and lefty Michael Plassmeyer, it was a bittersweet moment for fans of both organizations.
Mallex had left quite the impression on Rays fans during the 2018 season and provided excitement with his dazzling speed, and many were sad to see him go. However, fans over in Seattle were suffering a similar heartbreak when hearing that Zunino would be leaving town.
While ‘Z’ is known for his standout defensive abilities while catching (including this year’s Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award), he is perhaps better known to the Seattle faithful as the ‘good guy’ of the organization.
Zunino was born in Cape Coral, Florida – just a couple hours from Tampa, and could very much be considered to be a player competing for his hometown team. Baseball was already in Mike’s blood, as his parents met in Italy when playing professional baseball and softball in the premier Italian leagues. His father, Greg, was even drafted by the New York Yankees in the 1981 draft – going in the 31st round.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mike would have a successful high school career as a catcher, getting drafted by the Oakland A’s in 2009. However, he would reject the offer and go to play college baseball with the University of Florida. He was part of an excellent Florida Gators team that would go to the College World Series in all three years he spent as a Gator. He would even win the SEC Player of the Year Award in 2011.
This boosted his draft stock dramatically, and Zunino would be picked third overall by the Mariners in the 2012 draft. Throughout the rest of the year, he would dominate over various levels in the Seattle system, so much so that he would find himself in AAA before he had even played a full season as a professional.
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He made his major-league debut at the age of 22 on June 11th, 2013. Since reaching the show, Zunino has demonstrated excellent defensive prowess behind the plate, but his bat has not been quite as consistent. He has proven that he has good power potential, showing that he can hit 20-30 home runs when given consistent playing time, but has struggled to make sustainable contact, with a career batting average that hovers around .200.
Statistics are only half the battle when evaluating a new player, and one thing they can’t measure is personality, and luckily for Tampa, Zunino has a great one. It is has been reported from various Seattle media outlets that Zunino has an impeccable work ethic and despite his relatively young age, Mike is a universally respected presence in the clubhouse as does an excellent job of calling games and working with his pitching staff.
It should also be noted that he has often been genuine in interviews by telling reporters exactly where he went wrong – demonstrating that he has an awareness of how he can grow and develop as a player. He often holds himself accountable for any mistakes he makes and it is obvious that he takes pride in being the baseball player he can be, which will fit perfectly in the young and hungry Rays clubhouse.
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All in all, Mike Zunino is a good player with tremendous upside that will enjoy the many benefits of playing for his hometown team, as well as being an awesome guy. I predict that ‘Mikey Z’ will quickly develop into a fan favorite, making the loss of the Mallex Effect a much easier pill to swallow.
Welcome aboard, Z!