Mike Zunino -- the Mariners 1st round pick in 2012 -- enjoyed a ton of success at all levels of play in a great year. From wininng the Dick Howser and Golden Spikes Awards at Florida to hitting .360/.447/.689 at two stops in the Mariners organization and playing postseason ball to enjoying great success among the games' top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Invited to Mariners FanFest to get introduced to and talk with the fans of the club, Mike took some time off the stage to talk with me about his busy blur of a 2012 and his goals for 2013 and beyond.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with me during your busy FanFest weekend, Mike.
Mike Zunino: No problem at all Rick, thank you.
SC: What do you think of this event and experience so far?
MZ: It’s awesome. Awesome. A lot of fun to be invited out here.
SC: A huge whirlwind year for you, starting with Florida, the College World Series, the draft, two levels of minor league ball, the playoffs, the Arizona Fall League and then your wedding in October. Did you take any time to sit back and reflect on the year that was in 2012 before you started gearing up for 2013?
MZ: Yeah, the last month or so -- all of December -- was really just a little bit of relaxation and reflection time for me. I just took some time to regroup and look back and enjoy everything that happened and then focus on the next year. And that’s the biggest thing now. Once 2013 came around, now I’m just focusing on that. It was definitely a great 2012 but now it is looking ahead to what will be a great 2013.
SC: What did you learn about yourself or about your game during your first season as a professional with the Mariners last season?
MZ: I learned a lot. It’s one of those things were I'm just constantly pushing myself to get better and to adapt. Especially when making that jump from Everett to Jackson. And then playing every day, too, that was a big adjustment. Then in the Arizona Fall League, with being tired and working to push through that, it was just a constant exercise of trying to adapt and push my game and trying to be on top of everything all the time. It was a rewarding experience, even going through the Fall League and being tired and maybe not putting up the numbers I should or hitting the pitches that I should, but to fight through that and put together some good at bats in the end.
SC: What was the biggest difference between the college game and the minor leagues – pitching, catching, wood bats, daily grind?
MZ: Probably the day-to-day grind. That's a huge change. And it's good and it's bad. Physically, you obviously have to prepare yourself and treat your body the right way, but from a mental standpoint it’s almost easier. You can either turn the page each day and move on to the next day or you can dwell on it and let it affect you. I personally enjoyed being able to kind of leave what is in the past in the past and go to the field fresh the next day. Overall it was a very good experience in dealing with the grind and the ups and downs and just learning how to deal with it.
SC: A lot of attention is given to the top pitching prospects in the Mariners organization, and rightfully so. You had the opportunity not only to face a lot of quality pitchers, but to catch several of the M’s top prospects this past year – what do you think it is that makes the Walkers, Paxtons, Maurers and guys like that special?
MZ: They're just always trying to get better. Whether it is in the weight room, or they are in the bullpen working on something, they always have a plan and they're always working to get better. All three of those guys were always at the field early putting their work in and it shows. Their arms were still in great shape in the second half of the year and they were still rushing the ball up there in the mid- to upper-90s. And that's something else. And, as a hitter, you don't want to face that, because it is late in the year and you are getting tired at that point also. It speaks a lot about each of them with the work that they put in and the dedication that they show.
SC: And you also caught Victor Sanchez in Everett -- impressions of him?
MZ: Yeah. Oh my gosh -- I mean, for only being 17...That guy is put together like a middle linebacker. He’s impressive and he’ll be making some noise and some big strides here soon, too.
SC: You have been praised for your natural leadership qualities and, as a catcher that is often a part of the job description. Do you think that you gravitated towards catching because of your leadership or that you became a leader because of the fact that you were catching?
MZ: I think I went to catching because of my leadership. I've always been the type of guy that talks with my teammates and checks in to see how everyone is doing. And I like taking responsibility for the team, good or bad, whatever happens to the team. I think that just fits my personality. It just starts with checking in on how guys are, how their days are going, but then it progresses into, "Hey, let's work on this." It's just something that I naturally have always gravitated to and I'm lucky that it worked that way.
SC: What role did your father, with his MLB connections, have in your development as a player and learning the game sort of on the next level from the average kid picking up the game, things like the intricacies of the game?
MZ: Definitely the exposure. I was always exposed to the game, even at a very young age. He used to just let me hold the radar gun and things like that when he was scouting. And he was very good and patient because he never pushed anything on me; he made sure that I was the one to go to him. So whenever I had questions I would go to him and he would just give me his honest opinion. That’s what helped me out. Whether his advice be at games, or after games or just hanging out, he’d let me know how. And just how he goes about things, too.
SC: Being invited to Major League camp is obviously an honor for any prospect, what do you hope to show the big league coaches, players and the front office in your time with the big club in Peoria?
MZ: Like you said, it is a great honor. I want to take away as much knowledge as I can get from those guys. We've obviously got great big leaguers up there and a lot of young talent and they've been through it. I believe everyone that who played last year has that year under their belt so they have knowledge that I can use or try to get from them to make myself better. But as for myself going to camp, I just want to go there and compete. And more so than treating it as an honor, I want to show everyone that I belong there and that I can play at a high level day in and day out. I want to try and have my presence felt a little bit and learn the pitching staff and just do the best that I can do.
SC: What is your biggest emphasis in your personal Player Development Plan for the upcoming year?
MZ: I want to solidify my game behind the plate. That's my biggest thing. If I can go back there and catch and throw and manage the pitching staff and help the pitching staff put up zeroes, that leads to wins, and that's my biggest goal. We want to win ballgames. That's what I’ll continue to work on during this season -- calling games, managing the pitching staff, receiving, blocking, throwing -- just sort of fine tune my overall defensive game, and that will help the team move in the right direction. And whatever I can do with the bat is just going to help out as a bonus.
SC: What are your goals for the 2013 season and beyond?
MZ: I really want to help the team win in every single way that I can. I'm extremely competitive when it comes to that, I just like to win. So I want to help with that. Whether it is moving guys over or driving guys in, helping with the pitching staff, whatever. I just want to help whichever club I'm with win ballgames and the rest of the goals will fall in line from there.
SC: Thanks so much for your time, Mike. Have fun the rest of your weekend here and best of luck on the upcoming season and for your whole career ahead with the Mariners.
MZ: You bet, Rick. Thank you.
Looking for more Mariners player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.