Zunino Excited about Mariners Opportunity

The selection was rumored for months and finally became reality when the Seattle Mariners took Mike Zunino with the third overall pick of the MLB Draft on Monday. Zunino was a lock to come off the board in the top ten picks, but his relationship with the Mariners and scouting director Tom McNamara made the pick special to him.

McNamara made trips to Gainesville before the start of the college baseball season to spend time with Zunino and his family. He wasn't sure if the Florida catcher would be their selection with the third pick, but he wanted to research it to make sure he was making the right choice.

Those visits, including one preseason dinner, gave Zunino a feeling of comfort if the Mariners were to take him.

"It was a very good dinner," Mike Zunino said. "We talked and got to get to know each other extremely well. We talked baseball, we talked life and about everything. We got to know each other and get a good relationship with one another.

"It was the only team that had done that. It showed they had interest and helped me breathe a little easier."

The eyes on Zunino from Seattle actually started a while ago. It didn't begin in the middle of his sophomore season that earned him SEC Player of the Year honors. The Mariners were watching when Zunino went through his freshman campaign and learned to hit against some of the best hitting in the country.

"We've watched him for three years," McNamara told the Seattle Times. "He's steady. He doesn't jump out and wow you like some other players. But what you get at the end of the day is a steady, hard-nosed, tough kid who's got power and can really catch."

Zunino didn't know until the Mariners called him 15 minutes before the start of the MLB Draft and told him he would likely be their pick. When commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement, the celebration began.

Zunino was watching the draft with his family and fiancé, along with his roommate and fellow first-rounder Brian Johnson. The duo's Gainesville house was full of family members and some teammates to share the experience.

Whether the 2012 season comes to an end this weekend in Gainesville or in Omaha during the College World Series, Zunino has come a long way since high school. The Oakland Athletics took him in the 30th round out of high school, falling that far because he told scouts he would like to go to college.

The move paid off. Slot value for the third overall pick this year is $5.2 million.

"Coach O'Sullivan and the rest of the coaches have taught me so much about the game of baseball—as much the physical part as the mental part," Zunino said. "Coming to Florida and being on a good strength program has got me in the best shape I could be to play. It has helped me tremendously to be in a facility and do one-on-one workouts with the coaches."

College baseball also presented Zunino with the opportunity to mature as a player and as a person. He's expected to rise through the Mariners minor league system quickly if that's the pace Seattle chooses to go because of his experience and success in the SEC.

"I've learned so much since high school," Zunino said. "I learned that there's more to the game than just hitting, catching and throwing. I've learned how to think through things and take one at-bat at a time and focus. Off the field, I've matured to get my priorities in the right line, work hard and let everything fall into place."

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