Do Not Fall In Love With Mike Zunino
Perhaps you drafted Jesus Montero as your starting catcher this season. Maybe you’re in a league that starts two catchers. Maybe you were drunk and thought Tyler Flowers would be good this year. Perhaps you put all your eggs in Ryan Doumit’s basket.
There are plenty of reasons why Fantasy owners in leagues of all shapes and sizes are looking for catchers this time of year. It’s a shallow position to begin with, and one that lends itself to injury more than almost any other.
So if you saw Mike Zunino promoted to the majors last week and added him to your team, it’s tough to blame you. And depending on your team and league’s composition, it might have even been a prudent choice.
But if you burned a high waiver claim or swung a trade for Zunino, you made a mistake. And if you’re expecting him to serve as the savior of your catching situation, prepare to be disappointed.
I’ve made this point about Zunino around various corners of the Interwebs before, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. That being said, here are three basic reasons you should be leery about what Zunino can do for you in 2013.
Reason One: He’s not ready
This one is pretty straightforward, but I’ll elaborate. Zunino has done nothing in 2013 to suggest he’s ready for the majors. To whit, Zunino’s 2013 stat line in 208 Triple-A PA: .238/.303/.503, wRC+ of 100. What’s more concerning is that Zunino posted a 28.4 K% during that span, compared to just a 6.7 BB%. It’s true that Zunino hit well in a very small sample in Double-A last season, but that’s probably where he should’ve opened up the 2013 campaign. That the Ms decided to promote him after such a lackluster showing speaks more to their organization than it does to Zunino’s readiness. Which leads me to my next point …
Reason Two: His environment sucks.
Seattle seems like a lovely place and I’d very like to visit one day. But from a Fantasy baseball perspective, Seattle is where talented offensive players go to die. Be it Safeco or the M’s’ coaching staff or some combination of the two, the Great Northwest swallows up offense with reckless abandon. From established players to Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins to “can’t miss” prospects like Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, no player except for Ichiro Suzuki is apparently safe from the Mariners’ organization.
Zunino is a good prospect and considered “safe” for a catcher, but by no means is he a can’t-miss offensive player. He’s a “safe” bet to spend several years in the majors thanks to his combination of pop and defense, but the projection that would see him hit .270 with 20-plus bombs is anything but a lock. He’s in a poor offensive park with a bad developmental staff and a weak lineup around him. Even if Zunino figures it out eventually, there’s not a ton of reason for optimism right now.
Reason Three: We overrated him to begin with
In the age of Buster Posey, Carlos Santana and others, we’re perhaps a bit spoiled by great catching prospects. The catcher who is both good defensively and can bat in the No. 3-5 holes in an order is arguably the rarest commodity in the game. When a prospect flashes the ability to be such a player, we all freak out. It happened with Montero, as we referenced above. It’s happening with Gary Sanchez and, in some ways, Jorge Alfaro now. And it’s led us to overrate the likes of Santana, Devin Mesoroco, Matt Wieters (offensively), Jarrod Saltalamacchia and many others in the recent past.
Much like the man he’s often ranked with, Travis d’Arnaud, Zunino does not profile as a middle-of-the-order hitter at the major league level. I think a best-case scenario for Zunino would allow him to hit fifth for a decent team in his prime, but that’s the ceiling we’re talking about here. He’s going to challenge for 20 homers every year, and the potential is there for an average north of .270, but that’s it. He’s not going to be an OBP machine. He’s not going to hit for massive power. He’s not going to approach a .300 average.
From a Fantasy perspective, you’re really looking for two-dozen bombs and an average that won’t hurt you. That’s great from a catcher, but it doesn’t make Zunino a star. As Zunino settles into his career, I’m optimistic that he can become a consistent Top 10 Fantasy backstop. Given what we know about how most catchers mature, though, it could be a year or two before he reaches that level.
All in all, I see Zunino finishing the year as a Top 20 Fantasy backstop, but not by a wide margin.
Sorry, M’s fans.