Mike Zunino's career .195 batting average, 32.4 percent strikeout rate and 16.6 percent swinging-strike rate clearly paint him as a hacker. He finally proved in 2016, however, that he can tap into the home-run upside many have been yearning for from his bat for years - along with a bit of gravy in his 10.9 percent walk rate. This progression resembled the 10.7 percent free-pass rate he showed at Triple-A last season. Of course, that happened in his third stint at the highest farm level -- so it's not entirely surprising that he conquered it. He will still whiff frequently at major-league breaking balls. Even with his flaws, however, he still carries some intrigue. Carlos Ruiz's backup duty aside, Zunino may remain the priority for playing time. Landing a backstop on the cheap with a difference-making skill could lead to a useful fantasy profit. Zunino's power fits that bill, but his batting average could cripple a roster.
Zunino went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and solo home run in Thursday's 8-6 Cactus League victory over the Cubs. Zunino's hitting has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring, as he's now slashing .353/.522/1.059 following Thursday's production. He's tops on the Mariners with three homers, while his six RBI tie him with Zach Shank for the team lead in that category as well.
Zunino went 2-for-3 with two-run double, solo homer, two runs and a walk in Monday's 9-0 Cactus League win over the Rangers. Zunino got a hold of an A.J. Griffin offering in the second for his second round-tripper of spring, and he boosted his average to .308 with Monday's effort. Although the 25-year-old backstop already boasts a stellar reputation for his work behind the plate, he's never hit above .214 at the big league level. However, he carries plenty of power upside, giving him solid fantasy value coming into a 2017 season in which he'll serve as the Mariners starting backstop.
Zunino went 1-for-3 with a solo home run in Saturday's 4-3 Cactus League win over the Rockies. The Mariners backstop went down on strikes on the two at-bats in which he did make outs, but he connected to left center off Jon Gray for his first round-tripper of spring in the second inning. His blast was the only hit off Gray over two innings and was only Zunino's second hit of spring overall. The 26-year-old's excellent defensive profile have earned him the opportunity to start heading into 2017, but veteran Carlos Ruiz will serve as a highly capable backup option who is slated to also receive plenty of playing time in the coming season.
Zunino enters the 2017 season as the starting catcher, primarily due to his outstanding defensive skills, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. The 2012 third overall pick will finally get first crack at the starting job from the onset of a campaign. Zunino began last season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he slashed a solid .286/.376/.521 with 17 homers and 57 RBI over 79 games. He receive a mid-July call-up to the big league club and was even better there in the early going, smacking two homers in his first game and generating a .280/.396/.707 line with five doubles, nine homers and 21 RBI over his first 26 contests. The torrid pace wasn't sustainable over the long term, however, as Zunino hit just .146 with two doubles, three homers and 10 RBI over the final 29 games of the season. The Mariners are willing to live with those offensive inconsistencies due to the 25-year-old's stellar defense, as they consider his ability to handle the pitching staff to be at a near-elite level. The team also appears to have found an ideal veteran complement in former All-Star Carlos Ruiz, whom they acquired in a Nov. 7 trade with the Dodgers. According to manager Scott Servais, although he envisions Zunino as the clear-cut starter, he'll leverage Ruiz's presence to potentially give the former more days off than a typical first-string backstop. "Understand we're not looking forward for Mike Zunino to play or catch 125 or 130 games," Servais said. "That's not the point. So when he does hit a little funk and we need to give him a few days off, we've got Ruiz to step in there and let him play a few days. I think it's a good mix."
Zunino is out of the lineup Sunday against the Athletics, MLB.com's Greg Johns reports. Zunino had started each of the last four games behind the plate, so he'll be given a breather in the season finale. Chris Iannetta gets the nod behind the plate.