Zunino's Timeline
Written by Jon Shields on January 18, 2013 @ 12:05PM      Jump To Comments

Getty Images One of the justifications for Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik's trading of John Jaso and his three years of team control is the stellar first impression made by Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in last summer's amateur draft. Zunino, 21, debuted in low-A Everett before being promoted to AA Jackson, producing an impressive batting line of .360/.447/.689 over 190 plate appearances between the two levels. Zunino supplemented his performance with a great showing in the Southern League playoffs and a .288/.337/.463 line over 80 at bats in the Arizona Fall League. Zunino will participate in big league camp this spring and many believe he could be ready for Major League Baseball midway through the 2013 season.

Zunino's bat is undoubtedly on the fast track, although his catching skills are believed to be lagging a bit behind. He's known to possess the intangibles teams want at catcher, but passed balls/wild pitches were a problem in 2012 and Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks lists his defense among his weaknesses: "receiving skills are fringe at present; lateral movement (framing/blocking) needs to improve; drifting issues; ball carries after impact; bat ahead of glove."

Some Mariner fans reluctant to sit through a season of Jesus Montero behind the plate are hoping Zunino can play his way onto the team during Spring Training, the rationale being that his bat could be useful and his defense probably couldn't be much worse than Montero's or Jaso's. Maybe those fans have a point, but such a move would differ from the league's norms.

Below you'll find the number of minor league regular season games caught by Major League catchers who checked in with a FanGraphs WAR above 2.0 in 2012.

Buster Posey - 135 games
Yadier Molina - 290 games
Carlos Ruiz - 413 games
Joe Mauer - 200 games
Miguel Montero - 368 games
Matt Wieters - 120 games
A.J. Ellis - 515 games
Jonathan Lucroy - 271 games
A.J. Pierzynski - 566 games
Carlos Santana - 315 games
Ryan Hanigan - 393 games
John Jaso - 381 games
Salvador Perez - 288 games
Yasmani Grandal - 140 games
Alex Avila - 124 games
Russell Martin - 303 games

Zunino has just caught just 31 to date.

It would be easy to stop here and conclude that Zunino needs more time, but we're not exactly comparing apples to apples. For example, Molina was drafted out of high school, came from a famed catching family, was a defensive stud, and reached the big leagues at age 21. Are his games caught between ages 18-21 equal to Zunino's from age 21-24? Certainly not. Zunino gets some credit for catching the past couple seasons in the SEC, and it should be acknowledged that his father is a pro scout and former minor leaguer.

Lets take another look at the above list considering only games caught in the age 21 season and later:

Posey - 135
Molina - 36
Ruiz - 413
Mauer - 0
Montero - 279
Wieters - 120
Ellis - 515
Lucroy - 271
Pierzynski - 267
Santana - 312
Hanigan - 393
Jaso - 318
Perez - 88
Grandal - 140
Avila - 124
Martin - 240

In terms of timeline, the "Zunino should break camp with the Mariners" crowd is comparing him to arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball and arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball, and those two had the benefit of professional instruction, more playing time and better competition from age 18.

Zunino would have to play most of the season in AAA to reach the next tier that features players of similar backgrounds in Posey, Wieters, Grandal and Avila.

Only time will tell what the Mariners' plans are for Zunino, but giving him a full season in the minors seems customary based on the career paths of current quality big league backstops. That would still be considered "the fast track."