Zunino looks to continue steady progress in AFL

Zunino looks to continue steady progress in AFL

Zunino looks to continue steady progress in AFL
As he proved in college and already in his brief time in the Mariners' organization, catcher Mike Zunino brings a lot to a team. He was a standout at the University of Florida, leading the Gators to three College World Series appearances, and this summer he quickly adapted in stints with Short Season Class A Everett and Double-A Jackson.

Zunino, the first pick (third overall) by the Mariners in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, won the 2012 Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player. And while his offensive numbers as a pro stand out -- .373 batting average at Everett and .333 with Jackson -- he knows the true value of a catcher goes beyond that, something he hopes to drive home in the Arizona Fall League.

"I just try to bring a good attitude every day to the field," he said. "I try to be a leader as much as I can, help the pitching staff, and everything I can do with the bat is just a bonus for the team."

Other Seattle prospects with the Peoria Javelinas are shortstop Nick Franklin (ranked No. 3 on the Mariners' Top 20 Prospects list), third basemen Vincent Catricala (No. 8) and Stefen Romero (No. 10), right-handed pitchers Logan Bawcom and Carson Smith and lefties Bobby LaFromboise and James Paxton (No. 5).

Zunino was a 29th-round selection of the Oakland Athletics in 2009, but he opted for college. He says the first stage of his transition has gone smoothly.

"It's been fairly easy," he said. "When it comes [down] to it, it's baseball. A little bit easier, knowing you don't have to balance school and all that other stuff on top of it, but just to be able to sit here and play every day has been a lot of fun.

"For me, those three years have benefited me unbelievably. I matured as a player -- physically, mentally, and it taught me responsibility. It did everything for me. For me, thinking I was ready coming out of high school and going there was definitely eye-opening."

He has made a good early impression on Peoria manager Dusty Wathan.

"He seems like a great guy to be around, and I've heard great things about him," he said. "Obviously a tremendous bat. He did a nice job this year [in the Minors] ... a great program at Florida, that's obviously an advantage."

As for being a dominant college player and reaping awards, Zunino quickly put all of that in the past.

"They're great honors to win, but coming into pro ball, it's another chapter in my baseball career," he said. "Just going out there, I try to prove something every game.

"It was nice to be able to make that jump and see the competition and level of play there, just to be able to talk to some great baseball minds in the organization, pick their brains and try to increase my knowledge."

Zunino got an early start on his baseball acumen since his father was a scout for the Marlins. He liked what he saw in Charles Johnson, and he said he has picked up a lot just by observing.

"You just sort of watch everybody," he said. "All these guys now, you look at [Jason] Varitek, you look at [Buster] Posey and [Matt] Wieters and try to take everything from their game and try to just practice that.

"If you can take something from one of their games and try to incorporate it into yours, it would be good."

He knows it will not be easy and maybe not a rapid ascension, but he's ready for the challenges.

"Wherever they put me, I'm going to go and play as hard as I can and work my butt off, and from there everything will take care of the rest," he said.

Franklin, meanwhile, has spent four years in the Mariners' organization, including playing 64 games with Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League this season, his first appearance in Triple-A. He has set his personal bar high.

"I think I learned a lot through the years I've been here," he said. "This is my second year in the Fall League, and I think that I played with the top guys, and I think I've exceeded my expectations, so I think I'm definitely ready for the next level.

"But at the same time, wherever they put me is where I'm gonna play."

Frustration, he says, isn't even on his radar screen.

"Not at all," he adds. "I believe in what they have in the future for me, so I'm just ready for whatever they give me."

Jim Gintonio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.