It hasn’t been a fun few weeks for Mike Zunino at the plate.
The young catcher for the Mariners has struggled, hitting just .083 (3 for 36) with one homer, three RBI and 19 strikeouts over his past 12 games. It’s left him shaking his head in anger following numerous at-bats.
“A guy with his level of pride, when you don’t have the level of success you set out to have, it’s going to be frustrating,” said bench coach Trent Jewett. “I will know he’s frustrated when he takes it behind the plate. And I haven’t seen that. I think he’s done a remarkable job of separating offense and defense and handling the pitching staff, regardless if the offense is going well or not. Is there frustration? I’m sure. But as long as it doesn’t show defensively, I think it’s a feather in his cap and he’ll figure it out offensively.”
Jewett, a former catcher and the catching coach, knows that offensive struggles can be a distraction to defense.
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But Zunino has remained disciplined.
“With a team that’s based on pitching and defense, you can’t have your catcher taking at-bats, frustrations behind the plate,” Jewett said. “He has not done that. I think it’s a credit to him and only him. It’s a sign of things to come. He’s going to be real good. There’s going to be good days and bad days, but Mike is a pro in every regard.”
While slumps will hit every player, the Mariners know Zunino, who was rushed to the big leagues last season, is more susceptible to them than most young players.
After being taken with the third overall choice of the 2012 draft, Zunino played less than two seasons in the minor leagues — a total of 96 games with just 364 at-bats — before being called up to the big leagues June 12 last year. Ideally, a player would get close to 1,000 minor-league plate appearances before being called up.
But Zunino’s high level of maturity and advanced defensive ability, and the Mariners’ lack of depth, forced his timeline to be accelerated.
He’s still shown the potential to be an offensive factor with his limited experience. Zunino has hit 19 homers this season — tying a club record for catchers held by Miguel Olivo.
“You certainly like the potential offensively because he can change the game in a hurry,” Jewett said. “His power is something you just don’t see that often.”
But there have been struggles. Zunino is hitting just .203 (74 for 265) with a team-high 134 strikeouts and a .673 OPS. Keeping that from infecting his defense isn’t easy, but Zunino has done it.
“It’s very difficult,” Jewett said. “I think the most tangible portion of the game to the amateur eye, whether it be friends or family, they want to talk about offense. When he gets a call from A, B or C, they want to say ‘Oh, you were 2 for 4 tonight or you struck out two times tonight’ … whatever the case may be. They don’t want to talk about seven good blocks, calling a good game, throwing out a base runner. It’s just not what people talk about.”
Jewett will not let the defense be overlooked.
“He’s had a fast track in his career,” Jewett said. “He’s learned rapidly. He should be very proud what the numbers say he’s added to this pitching staff. There’s nothing tangible as far as his numbers go. But the pitching staff, their numbers speak for themselves and he’s a big reason for that.”
There still is no doubt Zunino is the Mariners’ catcher of the future. He’s brought a stability to the position for Seattle that hasn’t existed since Dan Wilson.
“His work ethic is tremendous,” Jewett said. “His confidence is tremendous. I think sometimes it gets him in a little bit of trouble, but we aren’t going to take that from him. In time, he will slow things down. I think long term we are going to find that we have one of the best catchers in all of baseball. “
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org