Zunino goes No. 3 to Mariners


Mike Zunino went third overall to the Mariners in the MLB draft.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, June 4, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 4, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

On Sunday night, Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino said it didn't matter where he ended up in the Major League Baseball June Amateur draft.

“As long as my name is called,” Zunino said.

Zunino was picked third overall in the first round by the Seattle Mariners, going exactly where many analysts predicted he would end up. The Cape Coral native's combination of power, defense and leadership ability was too tough for the Mariners to pass up.

“Mike is a sturdy, blue-collar, talented receiver with extra base potential,” Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara said in a conference call.

Zunino celebrated in low-key fashion in Gainesville with his family, fiance, roommates and a few select friends. He said he felt some nerves about an hour before the draft but didn't receive any indication where he would end up. He got a call from the Mariners organization about 20 minutes before the start of the draft and again shortly after he was selected..

“It's unbelievable,” Zunino said in a conference call. “In my wildest dreams, growing up, you would never think that you would be able to get this kind of opportunity. I just want to take advantage of it.”

In the process, Zunino made history, becoming the highest-drafted Florida baseball player in school history. The previous high was John Burke, taken 6th overall by the Houston Astros in 1991.

Zunino has put together another stellar year for the Gators, batting .316 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. He belted home runs on both Saturday and Sunday to help host Florida clinch the Gainesville Regional.

But in his initial remarks to the Seattle media on Monday, Zunino talked as much about his defense as his offense.

“I just want to be a well-rounded player,” Zunino said. “I take pride in my defense, blocking balls behind the plate, my ability to handle pitchers and call a game.”

Earlier Monday, Zunino was named a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's top collegiate catcher.

Zunino is the 13th first-round draft pick in Florida history and first since Matt LaPorta went seventh overall to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007.

Asked about his timetable to reach the Major League, Zunino responded: “I couldn't tell you. Hopefully as quick as possible. I just want to help the organization in any way I can.”

Zunino wasn't the only Florida player picked in the first round on Monday night. Florida junior lefty pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson was taken 31st overall by the Boston Red Sox. The two-way standout is 8-4 with a 3.56 ERA this season while batting .310 with 5 home runs and 40 RBIs.

Incoming 2012 Florida signee Lewis Brinson, a speed/power outfield prospect from Coral Springs, was taken 29th overall in the first round by the Texas Rangers.

Another incoming 2012 UF signee surprisingly wasn't taken in the first 31 picks. Tampa native Lance McCullers Jr., considered one of the top high-school pitching prospects in the country, slipped in the first round. Baseball America projected McCullers, a hard-throwing righty, to go 11th overall to the Oakland Athletics.

McCullers was taken 41st overall as a first-round compensation pick by the Houston Astros. 2012 Florida signee Jesse Winkler (outfielder, Olympia High, Orlando) was taken 49th overall by the Cincinnati Reds.

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