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Catcher Profile: Mike Zunino

Zunino has an elite pedigree that indicates good things are ahead despite his struggles to make contact so far in his young career.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get the nasty business out of the way first. The Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino hit .199 last year and his career batting average is a woeful .203 in 669 plate appearances. Obviously that is terrible. His career On-Base Percentage is an equally miserable .265, largely because he very rarely takes a walk. Zunino's unholy whiff percentage of 33.2% was the absolute worst of any hitter in baseball with at least 450 plate appearances last year. He struck out an eye-popping 158 times in only 131 games. He walked a mere 17 times. It doesn't matter if your league uses AVG or OBP, Zunino will kill you in either category. If your league punishes hitters for strikeouts you should avoid him like the plague.

Now that we have all the bad stuff out of the way let's try to find some things that Zunino does well. He hits a lot of home runs. He blasted 22 jacks last year in 438 ABs, a number beaten by only two other catchers (Devin Mesoraco and Brian McCann). His .205 ISO ranked him 23rd in baseball among all hitters. Zunino also made the top 10 among all catchers in both Runs and RBIs. So we can see that although his rate stats are awful his counting stats are quite good.

There were 171 hitters who garnered 450+ plate appearances last year. Only 6 of them had a BABIP lower than Zunino's unsustainably low .248 mark. He should see some positive regression toward the .297 league average in the future. As his BABIP climbs his AVG and OBP will improve as well. He hits a lot of fly balls (50%), which will likely limit his BABIP to around .280, but we should still expect his batting average to stabilize somewhere around .240, which is still not good but is much better than the .199 from last year. It takes him from a huge liability to an above average all-around fantasy catcher.

There is reason for optimism with Zunino. He will turn 24 years old a week before Opening Day. Catchers are known to take longer to develop at the plate than other hitters because so much of their training time is devoted to their defensive duties behind the plate and learning to handle a pitching staff. The fact that Zunino has already displayed the ability to be a power-hitting run producer at such a young age bodes well for his chances to evolve into an upper-tier fantasy catcher over the next few years.

As he came up through the minors, Zunino was considered a 1st-class prospect. As an amateur he played collegiately at the University of Florida, leading them to the College World Series all three years. He culminated his career by winning the Dick Howser Trophy as the college baseball player of the year, the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the nation, and the Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in the country. He was drafted by the Mariners with the 3rd overall pick of the 1st round in 2012. He progressed rapidly through the minors, garnering less than 500 total at-bats before reaching the major leagues in 2013 at the young age of 22. He was ranked as a top 20 prospect in baseball by nearly every major prospecting publication, including his #9 overall rank by SB Nation's John Sickels.

Most guys Zunino's age are still considered prospects. He is only 9 months older than this year's uber-elite top prospect Kris Bryant for example. Zunino may be going into his 3rd major league season but he still has a lot of room to grow as a baseball player, especially with the bat. Zunino's exploits haven't propelled his fantasy owners to league championships yet but I am confident his best years are still in front of him.

In our recently released Consensus Catcher Rankings, we ranked Zunino as the #17 catcher for the upcoming season. I think that is a good spot to put him based on his very low batting average and high strikeout rate. Right now Zunino is not a preferred option for your roster in redraft leagues, but that is going to change sometime soon. His skills are still very raw but he has the tools and ability to elevate his game as he matures. We will see steady progress from this highly talented young catcher that will culminate in a few years as a top 5 fantasy catcher, possibly even as early as this 2015 season if he gets the strikeouts under control. He makes for a nice upside play who can be acquired late in drafts. If you miss out on one of the elite options don't be afraid to invest a late pick on this future star, especially if you play in a dynasty or keeper league.