Mariners take Florida catcher Zunino with third pick in Draft


Five months after trading for premier catching prospect Jesus Montero, the Mariners added another big-time backstop to their organization by selecting Florida’s Mike Zunino with the third pick in Monday’s 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

Zunino, 21, was selected to the Baseball America All-American team and was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year last year as a sophomore at Florida and is backing that up with another big season this spring as a junior.

“Mike is a sturdy, blue-collar, talented defensive receiver with extra-base offensive potential,” Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara said. “He is a winning player, and will be a good fit with the Mariners. We look forward to having him in our organization and working his way towards being part of our Major League club in the future.”

Zunino is the seventh catcher drafted by the Mariners in the first round, but just the fourth with their first pick. Seattle selected Jason Varitek 14th overall in 1994, Ryan Christianson 11th in ’99 and Jeff Clement at No. 3 in ’05.

As the son of Reds scout Greg Zunino, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder grew up in the game and that background shows in his play.

“He’s the best catcher in the country. I think that will be shown, obviously, when the Draft comes around,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan told MLB.com. “Tremendous player. Tremendous kid. Great work ethic. Great leader. He’s the total package.”

Zunino was drafted in the 30th round by the A’s out of high school in Cape Coral, Fla., but opted for college and has had an outstanding career at Florida. He hit .371 with 19 home runs and 67 RBIs and a .674 slugging percentage in 72 games as a sophomore.

Zunino is batting .316 with 18 homers, 60 RBIs and a .667 slugging percentage in 62 games this year, with 28 walks and 45 strikeouts.

This was the third time in four years that Seattle had a pick among the top three selections. The Mariners took North Carolina’s Dustin Ackley at No. 2 in 2009 and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen second last year.

Seattle had used its first pick to tab a pitcher five of the past six years with Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Josh Fields, Phillippe Aumont and Brandon Morrow, with Ackley the lone position player to break that trend until Zunino’s selection.

The Mariners weren’t certain Zunino would be available with the third pick, but the Astros surprised by taking Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick and the Twins took Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton second.

Zunino was Seattle’s only selection on the opening day of the Draft. Their next pick comes Tuesday with the third pick in the second round, which is 64th overall after Monday’s first round and sandwich picks.

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