The Pacific Coast League passed its halfway mark this week, so it’s time for a check-up on the progress Tacoma Rainiers catcher Mike Zunino has made so far.
Zunino was optioned to Tacoma after hitting .174 with 132 strikeouts in 350 at-bats for the Mariners in 2015. The organization had a specific plan for Zunino to spend a good portion of the season in Triple-A, revamping his swing and approach at the plate.
The numbers are encouraging.
Zunino entered Saturday’s game batting .269 with 15 home runs and 48 runs batted in. More importantly in the eyes of the Mariners, Zunino has improved his walk rate while cutting down his strikeouts. He’s drawn 27 walks this year — six away from his career high of 33 set in 2013.
The change in approach has been clearly visible over the course of the season: Zunino started the season on a tear, then slowed down in May, and now has been putting together quality at-bats in June.
“I think he’s made quite a bit of progress,” Tacoma hitting coach Scott Brosius said. “The first month of the season, he was getting hits, but he was really attacking a lot of early-count pitches, and then he started getting pitched differently. He had to make some adjustments, and when you look at his at-bats now, they are quality at-bats. He’s going deep into counts, he’s seeing pitches.”
Zunino has struck out in 21 percent of his plate appearances — a huge improvement from his major league total of 34 percent last year and an improvement from his 28.8 percent rate with Tacoma in 2013, which was the last time he played in Triple-A.
There is still work to do. While the strikeout rate has improved, Zunino does still punch out with some frequency. Often it comes on a tough breaking ball — a good pitch, in the eyes of Brosius.
“You’ll still see him get frustrated at times,” said Brosius. “A guy makes a good pitch and he might go after a breaking pitch down out of the zone, but he’s not really chasing fastballs at all, and he’s staying within the zone generally.”
PETTY TOP GUN AT HOME RUN DERBY
Mariners Single-A Bakersfield first baseman Kyle Petty won one of the more unique home runs derbies the sport has ever seen.
As part of the California vs. Carolina League All-Star Game festivities, host city Lake Elsinore decided to do something different for its slugging exhibition: they held it on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Four hitters from each league were invited to participate in the event, which was held on the deck of the USS Midway moored in San Diego. The players launched balls from the bow of the ship into the bay, where they were measured and retrieved by volunteers on jet skis.
“There’s not really many chances you get to hit a baseball and watch it disappear into the ocean,” Petty told MiLB.com. “Probably the coolest and one of the more fun things I’ve ever gotten to do.”
Petty hit eight homers in the final round to win the derby. The Mariners promoted him to Double-A Jackson on Thursday.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.