Battle of the Backstops: Zunino vs d’Arnaud

Posted: February 14, 2013 in by Freddy Berowski
Tags: , , ,

Who Are They?

Mike Zunino was selected out of the University of Florida by the Seattle Mariners with the third overall pick in June 2012’s amateur draft.  Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 12.54.33 PMSelected behind only Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, he was the only catcher selected in the top 25 picks.  Many viewed Zunino as a “safe” pick in the draft; his defensive prowess was never in question, but at the time some wondered if he would hit enough in pro ball to make The Show.  If his first 300 professional plate appearances (including the Arizona Fall League) are any indication of his future, Zunino may ultimately be the best pick in last year’s draft.

Travis d’Arnaud has yet to crack the big leagues, and at age 24, is already with his third professional franchise.   What does this say about d’Arnaud?  One school of thought is that there is something wrong for such a highly regarded player to already be with his third franchise.  The other school of thought sees d’Arnaud as the special player he is; traded each time for a Cy Young Award winner.  d’Arnaud was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school in 2007, taken in the first round (37th overall) from Lakewood, CA.  Two season’s later he was one of the key cogs in the deal that netted the Phillies arguably the best pitcher of the last decade, Roy Halladay.  Three years after that the Blue Jays saw themselves as a piece away from contending in the AL East, and dealt a package centered around d’Arnaud to the Mets in exchange for reigning NL Cy Young Award winner RA Dickey.  The Mets made it clear the deal would not have happened without d’Arnaud.

By The Numbers:

Zunino signed quickly after last year’s draft and went right to work at Class- A Everett where he impressed not only with his glove, but erased any doubts about his bat by posting a .373/.474/.736 line in 133 plate appearances and prompting a promotion to Double- A Jackson.  In a smaller sample size in Jackson, against older and more seasoned competition, he posted a .333/.386/.588 line in 57 plate appearances.  After the season ended Zunino went on to display his skills in the Arizona Fall League, posting an OPS of .800 in 80 at bats.  Last month the Mariners announced that Zunino had been invited to Major League spring training after only one professional season, leading some to speculation Zunino could break camp behind the plate for Seattle.  Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 11.50.30 AMSince then the M’s have added veteran backstops Kelly Shoppach and Ronny Paulino to their catching mix, making it less likely that Zunino will make the big league club in April.  The Mariners will likely have Zunino open the season at AAA, not wanting to hinder his development sitting on the big league bench.

Unlike Zunino, d’Arnaud was drafted out of high school, which usually leads to a player needing more Minor League seasoning.  However it’s likely he would have already had made his Major League debut had he not suffered injuries in each of his last two seasons.  In 2011 for Toronto’s Double- A affiliate d’Arnaud posted a .311/.371/.542 line, following this up in 2012 with a .333/.380/.595 split before suffering a tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Projections:

Both Mike Zunino and Travis d’Arnaud project to be above average, every day, Major League catchers.  Both are good with the bat and glove, with Zunino having the potential to be a great defensive backstop  and d’Arnaud possessing the upside to be a great offensive run producer.  The only question mark about d’Arnaud is his health.  He needs a strong full season this year to dispel notions that he’s an injury prone player. Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 12.02.51 PM

I suspect Mike Zunino will begin the year at Triple- A Tacoma regardless of what happens in Spring Training, as the Mariners are unlikely to contend this year and there’s no reason to rush him.  The 22-year-old should pick up right where he left off with the bat and reach the bigs by Opening Day 2014 at the latest, where his ceiling will likely be a .275/.350/.450 hitter with 20-25 home runs.

The Mets, not expecting to seriously contend until 2014, will likely keep d’Arnaud at Triple- A  starting the season to avoid d’Arnaud reaching Super Two status and gaining a year of arbitration eligibility.  When he finally does get the call this year it will not be to sit the bench, and he’ll begin following in the footsteps of his idol Mike Piazza as a .300/.380/.500 slugger.

 

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