Mike Zunino just wrapped up batting practice and met with the media. The roster move is now official.
But the lingering question is still, “why now?”
There were kind of different responses from general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge.
“He’s played down there and all of us feel strongly this guy was going to be here at some point in time,” Zduriencik said. “We had a little bit of a later target date, but when you look at 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.”
Said Wedge: “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. 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. We feel like he’s going to be our guy in the future. You come up here, it’s a whole different set of circumstances. The sooner he can get to that, and get into that learning curve, for a guy we feel can be an every-day guy for us, the better off we’ll be in the future.”
Both felt that Zunino can handle the rigors of the game from a defensive side.
“That’s a big part of it,” Wedge said. “That’s one of the reasons I think he’s here so fast. He has that. That’s part of who he is, part of his DNA. 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.”
It’s why Wedge isn’t too concerned about what struggles Zunino had hitting wise in Tacoma.
“With him, like the question we were just talking about, the priority is first and foremost behind the plate, handle the staff, leadership on the field, the presence that he has,” Wedge said. “The bat will take care of itself over time. He’s going to be a pretty good hitter. How good? I don’t know. But I know he is going to be a complete, all around ball player, and that we feel pretty confident about.”
Wedge loves how Zunino looks for and attacks fastballs.
“That’s why he’s a good hitter,” he said. “That’s why he’ll continued to be a good hitter. You have to do that. Every good hitter you talk to, they aren’t sitting up breaking balls. You stay in the big leagues by hitting fastballs, it’s not by hitting nasty breaking balls. That doesn’t happen.”
And his struggles hitting offspeed and breaking stuff?
“Yeah, you just have to see it,” Wedge said. “There’s an approach part of it. He’s still going to learn a lot about himself as he continues to get Abs. But it’s different up here too. That’s part of it. What you see up here pitching-wise is different, you know the sooner he can get to that, because he’s a smart kid and a good worker, he’ll make those adjustments that much sooner and ultimately be a good big league hitter that much sooner.”
Usually in this situation, expectations for a prospect like Zunino being called up can be rather high. Zduriencik tried to downplay the hype a few different times.
“It’s also a tremendous experience for him right now to grasp this thing and be part of this thing,’ Zduriencik said. “We were all impressed with what he did in spring training. I don’t think anybody here is expecting miracles. 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.”
And later …
“Everyone likes his leadership ability. Everyone likes his receiving skills. Everyone likes his maturation,” Zduriencik said. “He’s got power. You look at his numbers, home runs, RBIs. Again, the one thing to remember, no one should have great expectations immediately from this kid simply because it is early in his career. He’ll be a different player two years from now than he will his first week up here, but that’s natural. But I do think he has all the skill sets to be a really good receiver up here.”
There has been talk about how Zunino might handle any possible failure, or the disappointment of being sent down again if he struggles. Zduriencik believes Zunino’s make-up can handle it.
“I think we even went through that with Brandon Maurer,” Zduriencik said. “Everyone really likes Brandon Maurer, but he had his struggles up here, he went down and we know he’s going to be fine when he comes back up here. The one thing you can never give someone in the Minor Leagues is the speed of the game. 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. That’s why we made this move.”