Seattle Mariners

Zunino still a good bet to be Mariners’ future catcher — but it’s definitely on hold

While he flashed encouraging catch-and-throw skills, Mike Zunino batted .193 in 295 games before the Mariners decided he required further development in the minors.
While he flashed encouraging catch-and-throw skills, Mike Zunino batted .193 in 295 games before the Mariners decided he required further development in the minors. The Associated Press

With the Mariners’ two new catchers, Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger, in town to take part Saturday and Sunday in the club’s annual FanFest, it raises the question:

What is Mike Zunino’s status with the organization?

Zunino, 24, spent much of the last two-plus seasons as the Mariners’ starting catcher before his continuing struggles at the plate prompted a demotion last August to Triple-A Tacoma.

“We’ve been very open,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Chris Iannetta is going to be the (starting) catcher if all is right and he is healthy, but Mike comes in and we’re not holding him back from accomplishing whatever he can accomplish.

“Our goal is that we have the opportunity to start him in Tacoma and watch his season develop. Mike went to the big leagues awfully quickly. To get to the big leagues in under 1,000 plate appearances is a quick journey.

“To do it in under 500 is a very quick journey.”

Zunino had 319 minor-league plate appearances before he made his big-league debut barely a year after the Mariners selected him with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft.

And it showed.

While he flashed encouraging catch-and-throw skills, Zunino batted .193 in 295 games before the Mariners finally decided he required further development in the minors.

Club officials underscored their decision by choosing not to recall him last September when the rosters expanded.

And now?

Barring an injury, it’s hard to see how Zunino breaks camp this April with the big-league club because Clevenger is out of options and offers a left-handed complement to a right-handed Iannetta.

“This season is going to be about what’s best in the career development of Mike Zunino,” Dipoto said, “and we’re going to make sure that that happens.

“If Mike needs two months, if he needs four months, if he needs a season of Triple-A to cultivate the offensive approach that we saw while he was at the University of Florida …we know it’s in there.”

The point man for rebuilding Zunino is Andy McKay, the club’s new director of player development. McKay comes to the Mariners as a big believer in the importance of nurturing a player’s mental skills.

“I have talked with Mike,” McKay said, “but in terms of really creating a plan, it would not be in place until we’ve all been there and seen it with our own eyes (in spring training) between myself and Jerry and Scott (Servais).

“We’re all new to him, but I don’t think we’re new to that situation. What I can tell you is we still believe in him 100 percent. We believe in the talent, and we believe in the person.

“He’s not the first person to go through something like this. He will get back to where he needs to be. He’s just at the first chapter of writing his book.”

Dipoto insisted that Zunino’s problems don’t include a lack of ability.

“Like with most other things in baseball,” Dipoto said, “the mental (approach) is probably significantly (heavier) on the scale of value than the physical. Players don’t forget how to play. They don’t forget how to swing a bat.

“Most difficulties you’re going to have on the field are almost never about the mechanical flaw. We say, ‘I detect a flaw.’ That’s great, but it’s usually something that’s going on in your head.”

FANFEST ON TAP

Iannetta and Clevenger are just two of the players scheduled to take part in FanFest.

The tentative participant list includes incoming closer Steve Cishek along with third baseman Kyle Seager and returning pitchers Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Charlie Furbush.

More interested in the future?

Four of the organization’s top prospects also are scheduled to attend: shortstop Drew Jackson and outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Boog Powell and Braden Bishop. The Mariners acquired Powell in trade from Tampa Bay.

All players will conduct autograph sessions on both days. So will Servais. All players, Servais and Dipoto also will conduct question-and-answer sessions on both days from the top of the dugout.

FanFest runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, with an adult admission of $10. Those age 14 and younger get in for free. Parking is available in the Safeco Field garage for $7 in advance and $10 at the gate.

Activities include the opportunity to run around the bases, ride a 200-foot zip line across the outfield, play catch in the outfield, pitch in the bullpen and tour the Mariners’ clubhouse.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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