Mike Zunino was drafted by the Mariners just over a year ago, and while he came into the season as one of the game's top prospects -- Baseball America ranked him #17 in their top 100 -- he hasn't translated that into production at Triple-A yet. That won't keep him from a promotion to the majors, though, as the Mariners have called up Zunino anyway, in the hopes of bringing some life to their offense.
Let's see what our resident Mariners' expert, Lookout Landing, think of the move:
A Zunino promotion would scream of "oh shit i'm going to lose my job, I better get all the help I can so this team can win 75 games"— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 11, 2013
Not exactly a vote of confidence for either the front office or Zunino. Why the pessimism, though? Besides the fact that the Mariners have destroyed one promising hitting prospect after another this decade, I mean.
Zunino is hitting .238/.303/.503 for Triple-A Tacoma. The power sounds swell and all, but he plays in the Pacific Coast League, so some context is needed. The average hitter in the PCL has a .272/.345/.423 line and a 768 OPS -- OPS isn't perfect by any means, but Zunino is better in the less-valuable half of the stat, and if you compare his 806 OPS directly to the average PCL one, he's only about five percent better. That's an encouraging start to development for a 22-year-old with barely any professional experience, but it doesn't exactly scream major-league ready.
Zunino mashed in 2012, but it was against lesser competition in Low- and Double-A. To his credit, while the PCL inflates offense overall, his own home park doesn't: Tacoma boosts left-handed home run power, but it cuts into everything else, and is 23 percent worse than a neutral park for right-handed batters' run production. That's just one park, though: everywhere else in his division is heaven for hitters, and he's unsurprisingly performed much better outside Tacoma than in it (.333/.389/.750 in 23 games).
So, Tacoma is selling him a bit short while the rest of the PCL is helping him out -- that's how he ends up with a line right around the midpoint, one that lacks walks and batting average, but still looks like it has plenty of power. That's been the book on him for a while now, with outlets such as Baseball America saying his only plus tool is his power, while the rest is balanced. That's not a bad thing once he's a finished product, but if all he's going to be able to do is hit for power against pitchers who very well might outclass him at this point, this stint could be trouble just like it's been for so many Mariners' hitting prospects before him.
It doesn't look as if Zunino is ready quite yet. Power is about all he has at this point, and while it's substantial, big-league pitchers might be able to get around that by exploiting his inexperience. If the Mariners are willing to send him back down to let him continue learning in the minors, should he prove to need that, then it's hard to get too worked up about this early call-up. If they force him to stick in the majors through his struggles, though, and cause him to end up as yet another Mariners' hitting prospect that can't take that next step -- another Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and so on -- then it will just be that much more clear the Mariners' don't quite know what they're doing.