The Seattle Mariners recently announced four new September call-ups: first baseman Jesus Montero, center fielder James Jones, right-hander JC Ramirez, and catcher Steven Baron. The moves give the team some depth, most notably behind the plate. The Mariners now have three catchers on the active roster – and not one of them is named Mike Zunino.
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We all know how Zunino’s 2015 has gone – after a disappointing 2014 at the plate, the all-world defender was expected by many to make big offensive strides this season. Instead he hit .174/.230/.300 over 386 plate appearances. The only players this year to hit worse in 300 or more trips to the plate are Rene Rivera and Omar Infante. Zunino’s hitting has been the bad kind of otherworldly.
And so he won’t be back. Per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Zunino will not be coming up to the majors again this season. He’s got too much work to do, and it sounds like he’s going to get right on it:
"Catcher Mike Zunino will not be called up. He will instead go to Arizona and participate in the upcoming instructional league. It was always assumed that the Mariners would bring him back after the Rainiers’ season ended. But Zunino is undergoing a massive swing overhaul with hitting coach Cory Snyder under the supervision of Edgar Martinez.Zunino will report early and then begin instructional play. The idea of reworking a swing and playing in big league games every four days just didn’t seem like a prudent idea. So Zunino will be in a non-pressure situation to make the changes."
Keeping Zunino away from the big leagues is the right thing to do. It’s something I argued for back in July, at which point it had already become clear that he needed much, much more than just MLB reps in order for his bat to become playable. The Mariners have the right idea, here – too bad they had to get rid of their GM in order to make it happen.
Zunino doesn’t need tweaks – he needs a new swing. The idea is to rebuild a baseball player, and that’s not the kind of thing that should be done at the major league level. It won’t even be done in the minors, as this is a trip all the way back to instructionals. It’s as if Zunino was just drafted today. He can put his hugely disappointing (and not entirely his own fault) major league career out of sight and out of mind. It’s a fresh start that wasn’t afforded to any of the other failed prospects that came before him.
Edgar Martinez is taking the lead on this project, and we all saw how much he was able to get through to Zunino when he was first installed as hitting coach. Under Edgar’s watch, the Mariners’ offense has been completely transformed. It’s still hard for me to place too much value on a hitting coach, but if there was ever one to earn the benefit of the doubt, it’s Edgar Martinez. And not just because of The Double.
Yes, it’s going to be hard to watch Baron, John Hicks, and Jesus Sucre the rest of the way. But Zunino was hard to watch, too, and Zunino is the one with all the potential. Might as well drop a link to this piece from Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs: check out just how awful M’s catchers have been this year! Kind of fun, until you remember what “fun” means to fans of good, non-Mariners teams.
The Seattle Mariners are making a serious attempt at doing the right thing with a valuable prospect who’s development was mishandled from an early age. Mike Zunino deserves a chance to be so much more than what he’s been so far, and it looks like he’s finally getting that chance in a low-pressure environment. Swing if you can hit it, Mike. And don’t if you can’t! It’s that easy, right?!?!