Mike Zunino arrived at Safeco Field midway through the Seattle Mariners’ batting practice on Tuesday, quickly dressed and hurried onto the field to take batting practice.
The Mariners’ top position player prospect was the latest player to be called up in a slew of roster moves over the last few weeks.
Zunino, who was in Las Vegas with the Tacoma Rainiers, got the call Tuesday morning and caught the first flight to Seattle.
To make room on the roster for Zunino, fellow catcher Brandon Bantz, called up less than a week ago, was designated for assignment.
With catcher Jesus Sucre not eligible to return from the disabled list until June 20, the Mariners decided to call up Zunino, the third overall pick of last year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft.
It was viewed by some as a little premature considering Zunino’s lack of experience — just 346 minor league at-bats – and his inconsistency at the plate this season. He was hitting .238 (44-for-185) with 11 homers and 43 RBI, but he also struck out 59 times and walked 14 times in 47 games.
“We had a little bit of a later target date,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “but when you look at it, we had an injury right now. There’s no harm in bringing him up. Let’s see where we’re at.
“The move we made prior to this, we thought Sucre was going to be out for just a couple days, and we were looking for short-term coverage. And we had a day game after a night game. So now that I think Sucre is going to be out a little longer, that predicated us looking at Zunino right now.”
A year ago, Zunino was preparing to play for Florida in the College World Series. Since then, it has been a whirlwind through the Mariners’ minor league ranks.
“I don’t think I could have pictured this a year ago, that this is where I’d be,” he said. “It’s exceeded anything I ever dreamed of. I’m just going to embrace it and take it as it comes.”
Even with the offensive inconsistency, manager Eric Wedge believed it was a logical decision.
“You look at his path and what we saw all spring, what we know he’s doing in Triple-A, we felt it was a good time to start his big league career,” Wedge said. “He’s so comfortable in his own skin. He handles everything very well. He’s a complete player, so we felt it was time for him to take the next challenge.”
Zunino is a natural on-field leader, a solid receiver with other above-average defensive skills.
“That’s part of who he is, part of his DNA,” Wedge said. “You saw it all spring. You’ve seen it every level he’s been at, last year and this year, too. That’s just part of his game.”
Zduriencik tried downplaying the hype and expectations usually generated when a top prospect is called up.
“I don’t think anybody here is expecting miracles,” Zduriencik said. “We’re not looking like he’s the answer. We’re just looking as we put this together and where we’re at right now, we know he’s going to be a guy that is counted on going forward, and it’s the right thing to do at this time for him. So we’ll bring him up here, give him a chance to play and see how it works out.”
There is some concern about what could happen to Zunino if he struggles with the Mariners and is sent back to the minors.
“The one thing you can never give someone in the minor leagues is the speed of the game,” Zduriencik said. “When they get here and experience that, some guys adapt immediately, and some guys have to go back and then come back. But they always gain from that experience, and that’s why, in this particular case, we felt it was the right thing to do based on all those things we talked about — the recommendations from the staff, what we’re looking for from this guy and what we think he’s going to be.”
DJ Peterson — the Mariners’ top 2013 pick — was at Safeco Field watching batting practice along with several other Seattle draft picks. They will take physicals and are expected to sign contracts Wednesday. Peterson also likely will take batting practice. … Third-round selection Tyler O’Neill and sixth-round pick Corey Simpson worked out with the Mariners. The muscular O’Neill, whose father is a bodybuilder, hit a few homers during batting practice. … Among the draft picks in attendance was Justin Seager, the younger brother of third baseman Kyle Seager. Justin Seager, an infielder, was taken in the 12th round out of North Carolina-Charlotte. Kyle Seager took his younger brother around, introducing him to Wedge and other players. The brothers look strikingly similar, but Justin Seager is about three or four inches taller. … Franklin Gutierrez (hamstring) had one of his best workouts since going on the disabled list in May. He will join Triple-A Tacoma for another rehab stint. … First baseman Justin Smoak (abdominal strain) took batting practice and will have another session Wednesday. He likely will have a rehab assignment with Tacoma.
The Mariners wrap up their three-game series with the Houston Astros on Wednesday. Right-hander Jeremy Bonderman (1-1, 6.75 ERA) will make his third start of the season for Seattle. The Astros will go with right-hander Jordan Lyles (3-1, 4.03). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.email@example.com @RyanDivish