Mike Zunino is wasting no time showing everyone in the Northwest League why he’s the Seattle Mariners’ four-million dollar man before even enjoying a cup of coffee in the bigs.
The Everett AquaSox catcher – the Mariners’ top pick and third overall selection in this year’s MLB draft – was batting .356 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 27 games prior to Saturday night’s game between the Spokane Indians and AquaSox.
And it was Zunino’s three-run blast off Spokane reliever John Kukuruda with no outs in the seventh inning that lifted Everett to a 6-5 win over the Indians in front of 5,899 fans at Avista Stadium.
Zunino finished 4 for 5, striking out in his first plate appearance, with four RBIs and a double to go with his home run – lifting his batting average to .377.
“He’s good,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “We tried to pitch him different ways, and on the home run we made a pretty good pitch – the ball was down, it wasn’t up. Boy did he hit it.”
Zunino, who was a second-team All-American in high school, was initially drafted in the 29th round by Oakland out of high school, but opted to play collegiate ball at the University of Florida.
As a Gator, Zunino was named the SEC player of the year as a sophomore and made three appearances in the College World Series – including earlier this summer as a senior.
His final season at Florida earned him Baseball America’s College Player of the Year award and the third-highest signing bonus in the 2012 draft as of early July, though the reported $4 million is $1.2 million less than the assigned value for the third pick.
“There was a little bit of pressure bulding up to the draft and that kind of thing, but all the pressure sort of went away when I got picked,” said Zunino. “I was able to go to the CWS again and I’m just out here playing baseball – trying to get better every day.”
“I love playing in the Mariners organization. From everyone I’ve met, to the coaching staff and the players, I’m having a great time,” he added. “All I’m trying to do is make it to the big leagues.”
If history repeats itself, he’s certainly on the right track.
Zunino’s parents, Greg and Paola, met in Italy in 1983 where Greg was playing professional ball. That’s when he met Paola, who was a catcher for the Italian national softball team. After five years in Italy, the Zuninos came back to the United States and Greg began scouting for the Cincinnati Reds – which he still does to this day.
Mike was born in 1991.
“My parents were a big influence on my game,” Zunino said. “I’m blessed to play a game I love for a living.”
Preston Beck and Cam Schiller each homered for Spokane. Schiller hit his third of the season while Beck hit his second. … The Indians fell to 8-10 in the second-half standings, while Everett improved to 7-11. The series continues tonight at Avista Stadium at 6:30.