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Top pick Zunino ready for first spring training with M's

By Shannon Drayer

All eyes will be on Mariners catching prospect Mike Zunino this spring as expectations of many are that he will find his way on to the big-league team at some point this season.

Despite having just 241 professional at-bats, he is believed to be on the fast track to the majors. He told "Bob and Groz" Thursday afternoon, however, he is not concerned where he starts the season.

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Mike Zunino, the Mariners' first-round pick, is expected to crack the big-league roster at some point this season. (AP)
"I am just going to go into spring training and wherever they assign me, first off, I will try to play the best baseball I can and try to be the best teammate I can and play ball to the best of my ability and let the pieces fall into place," he said.

A lot of the pieces seem to be in place already. The Mariners are excited about the bat he brings and many both inside and outside the organization say that he is advanced on the defensive side as well.

Leadership and the handling of pitchers were things that separated him from other top-ranked college catchers. Pedigree most likely had something to do with that. Zunino's father is a baseball lifer. Currently a scout with the Reds, Greg Zunino played two years of minor-league baseball and in Europe before taking his first scouting job.

"I have definitely been able to see the game in a different way growing up around baseball a lot," Mike Zunino said. "It sort of gave me a different outlook on it and I was able to pick his brain for knowledge as much as I could."

His hitting took off when he started to understand the importance of approach at the plate his sophomore year at the University of Florida.

It is his approach as a catcher that he says is his number one focus now.

"Having a relationship with the pitchers, just trying to catch them well. If I can get to learn them and give them a good easy setup target, if they feel comfortable throwing to me I think that is the most important thing," he said.

In his short time in the organization Zunino has already caught some of the Mariners' top arms, including Taijuan Walker in Double-A and James Paxton in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League. He liked what he saw from both.

"I think they are going to be something else," he answered when asked to give a scouting report on the two. "Paxton, with the depth that he has, he throws straight downhill, runs it up low to mid 90s with a great power curveball and moves the ball in and out really well.

"Taijuan it is unbelievable. To see him just throw, the ball explodes out of his hand. He goes into games throwing mid-to-high-90s and doesn't fall below it. He is something else and I think both guys are something to be excited about."

While it is a longshot we will see Zunino at Safeco Field on opening day, he will be there this weekend as he, Paxton and others will be on hand for Fanfest. This will just be a weekend visit but one the gets the feeling that it won't be long until he comes back to stay.

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