Monday night was a first for me. I had never been to an Everett Aquasox game, but with the team in town and Mike Zunino in tow, I figured now was as good a time as any to head on up the road for some minor league baseball.* I've gone to two games this week and I've made some observations about a lot of players. Since most of them lack Zunino's pedigree, I'm going to hold off talking about them for a moment. For now, here's a quick little recap on the M's first round pick from this past June.
The first thing anyone notices about Zunino is that he just looks huge. He isn't the tallest or heaviest guy on the field, but at an athletic 6'2'' and 220 pounds, he's an intimidating specimen. Not surprisingly, he doesn't show any fear in the box. We've all seen Brendan Ryan jump, skip, and dive out of the way of pitches on the black of the plate. Zunino takes the opposite approach, not moving a muscle on fastballs an inch from his body.
Zunino has a stroke conducive for opposite field hitting. It's not a pure inside out swing, but he covers the plate well and hits the ball where it's pitched. He also has good power to all fields. In tonight's game, he laced an opposite field single and a fly out to the right field warning track in consecutive at-bats. He actually didn't pull anything over the two games until his final plate appearance last night. In that at-bat, he worked the count in his favor and then hit a ball a mile and a half, but a few feet foul. Undeterred, he lined the next pitch he saw well over the left field fence for his eight homer of the season.
I haven't seen Zunino enough to say this was too much conviction, but if there's a flaw in his offensive game right now, it's with breaking balls. He certainly wasn't overmatched by them, but he was susceptible to going after sliders off the plate low and away. He chased a few pitches in the dirt on Monday night, including two consecutive breaking balls for a strike out. Whiffs aren't rare for Zunino either: he's fanned in 20 of his 102 plate appearances. Part of that is a product of his willingness to get deep in counts, and while it's not a problem as long he's mashing everything he touches, it would be troubling if his strike outs picked up as he advances levels. The pitching is only going to improve, so he's not going to be able to barrel everything as he moves up the ladder.
Zunino was also impressive behind the plate. He generally blocked pitches pretty well and he keeps his body quiet when he receives a throw. Nobody tried to run on him Monday night (he was the designated hitter on Tuesday) but I had a few sub-two pop times on him in warm-ups.
All in all, I'm not exactly sure why he's still in Everett. It's possible that the M's are keeping him in town until the next road trip to please the affiliate, but with his age and ability, he doesn't belong in the Northwest League. I'd expect him to move up very soon.
*- I'm also planning on going to Wednesday's game. I'm flying solo and I love talking baseball. If you randomly happen to be there, come say hi to the lanky guy in the black UW hat.