The towering six-foot-six, 255 pound first baseman is currently second in the Midwest League in home runs with 14 and is hitting .261/.315/.449 with 15 doubles and 55 RBI in his first full year of pro ball.
He was drafted in the fifteenth round of last year’s draft by the Padres out of the State Junior College of Florida for a slightly over-slot amount of $192,500, where he hit .311/.426/.597 with 28 extra-base hits in 57 games.
In his pro debut in the Arizona League he hit .271/.329/.496, but did his real damage in August when he hit .288/.350/.616 hitting with all seven of his home runs in that month. We interviewed him on his background coming out of college and his decision to go to the pros.
Zunica is the prototype of the type of athlete A.J. Preller likes to draft; somewhat raw, young, great size with a very big upside if he can put it all together.
We caught up with Brad before a recent game to talk about his adjustment to the Midwest League.
What has been your biggest adjustment in playing in a full-season league as compared to the AZL last year?
Brad Zunica: Just how long it is as compared to last year. You have to be able to make adjustments and try to get better everyday while still playing games.
For me one of the things I’ve struggled a little bit with is my timing and we’ve cut my leg kick down a bit. I think it gives me a little bit better rhythm and lets me see the ball a better.
That was next question that I was going to ask you. You are a big guy at six-foot-six and 254 did it take awhile to get in your head that if I hit the ball well it’s going to leave the park.
Brad Zunica: [laughs] Yeah, that is one of the things that I still struggle with, but its one of the adjustments you make as you continue to try to get better.
How have things been going defensively for you? You made a point to tell us in Spring Training that the weight loss had made you feel better around the bag at first.
Brad Zunica: I definitely think so. I feel much more comfortable in the field than I ever have.
Is it just moving around the bag, stretching or what?
Brad Zunica: It used to be that I didn’t want a ground ball hit to me. Now I do want balls hit to me and think I can make all the plays out there.
When I talk to some of the guys that came out of the AZL they talk about how hard a lot of pitchers throw but don’t always know where it is going. Did you find that to be true too?
Brad Zunica: Very much so; in my opinion it is much harder to hit a guy that is 88-92 with movement and three pitches than someone who is just throwing 95 with just a fastball.
Does part of it creep into you mind that the guy throwing 95 might not know where it is going all the time? Maybe at your head?
Brad Zunica: It does, but you have to get past that or you can’t play.
How has the travel been? You have some fairly long bus rides in the Midwest League and then you have to try to perform. How do you do that?
Brad Zunica: It takes some getting used to but we are also pretty fortunate about where we are located in the league. Our longest trip has been around six hours.
Is it tough for a guy your size to get much sleep on a bus?
Brad Zunica: [laughs] Yeah, I really don’t enjoy it that much, but you have to make do with it.
People always ask us about the differences between levels. My answer always is that the baseball is nearly the same, it’s just there are not as many mistakes. Do you find that to be true?
Brad Zunica: Yes, they play more shifts also and the pitchers are better because, as you said, they don’t miss as much.
Is the ability to throw secondary pitches the biggest difference between this level and the AZL?
Brad Zunica: A lot of these guys here are just much more polished, so yes they can throw them for strikes consistently.
How has that affected your approach? Does that start to enter into your thought process?
Brad Zunica: Not much because I am still looking for a fastball early in the count. Once I get to two strikes I try to battle a little more and protect.
I’m not really picky about where I am in the count when I see a fastball where I want it. I’m going to go get it.
Is it tougher for a guy your size to deal with the strike zone?
Brad Zunica: Recently I backed off the plate a little, but then again I’ve always been big. [laughs].
What is the biggest thing you are trying to work on going forward?
Brad Zunica: Just keeping my head still when I am in the box and trying to get a good pitch to hit.