Florida Gators catcher Mike Zunino is third overall pick in MLB Draft
GAINESVILLE - All season long, Florida catcher Mike Zunino had been able to keep his emotions in check and focus solely on playing baseball for the Gators.
But about an hour before Monday night's Major League Baseball Draft, Zunino's nerves started to get the best of him as he gathered at his Gainesville apartment with his roommates, family, fiance and a few close friends from home.
"That's when I started feeling some of the pressure,'' Zunino said Monday night. "But I was able to handle it throughout the year.''
Zunino was the third overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in Monday's 2012 Major League Baseball Draft, the highest draft pick in Florida history.
The junior from Cape Coral is the first Gator taken in the opening round since Matt LaPorta was picked seventh by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007. Since the Draft's inception in 1965, 13 Florida players have been selected in the first round.
Earlier today, Zunino was named one of the three finalists for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award.
I’m just extremely honored,’’ Zunino said. "I really didn’t have any inclination that I was that pick right away. I got a call maybe 15 or 20 minutes before the draft. I was extremely excited when I heard my name called by the commissioner.''
A first-team Louisville Slugger All-American, who is also a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award, he leads the Gators in total bases (154), RBI (60), doubles (27), homers (18), sacrifice flies (9) and slugging percentage (.667). A two-time first-team All-SEC recipient and two-time member of the league’s All-Defensive Team who is hitting .316, Zunino has registered a .994 fielding percentage, with three errors in 474 chances, and has thrown out almost a third of the runners who have attempted to steal on him.
"I liked him as a high school player,'' Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara said. "I liked his defense and leadership ability. I knew he had instincts. He comes from a baseball family. When he signed with Florida, we tracked him. We've watched him for three years. He's steady. He doesn't jump out and wow you like other players. What you get at the end of the day is a steady, hard-nosed tough kid who has power and can really catch.''
During the offseason McNamara had dinner with Zunino and his family to become better acquainted, a meeting that included three Mariners' scouts. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik also visited with Zunino nearly two months ago.
"He's a nice looking player,'' Zduriencik said. "He's a tough kid. You think about that position. It's very difficult to fill it as we know and everyone in baseball knows. When you have a kid with the pedigree and leadership skills, as well as the chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark, I thought it was a real nice package.''
Zunino, whose father Greg is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, was a 30th round pick out of high school. He said he's improved "everywhere" during his three years in college.
"I've matured so much since high school,'' he said. "I've learned there's so much more to the game than just hitting, catching and throwing. I've learned how to think through things. I've learned how to take one bat at a time, one pitch at a time, and to focus. Off the field, I've just matured knowing how to get my priorities in line, to work hard and just let everything fall into place.''
As part of the collective bargaining agreement signed last year, draft picks have until July 13 to reach a deal with a team. The previous deadline was Aug. 15.