Zunino introduced in Seattle

Seattle Mariners first-round draft pick Mike Zunino smiles as he stands on the field during the team warm-up Tuesday, July 3, 2012, before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 6:13 p.m.

Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in this year's MLB Draft, was introduced to the media Tuesday, a day after signing a deal with the Seattle Mariners.

The 21-year-old Florida alum reportedly agreed to a $4 million signing bonus.

“I've dreamed about this since I've been a little kid, and I'm just extremely thrilled to have this opportunity,” Zunino said.

Zunino has been in Seattle with his family the past two days talking with team officials and undergoing a physical, before taking batting practice at Safeco Field before the Mariners' game against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.

He has spent much of his time since the Gators' College World Series ouster accepting college baseball's most prestigious awards in places like Wichita, Kan., and Lubbock, Texas. The next stop on his award tour is New York, where he is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which recognizes the nation's top amateur player and will be awarded Friday. The other finalists are pitchers Mark Appel of Stanford and Carlos Rodon of North Carolina State.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik joked Tuesday that Zunino would need a buggy for all the hardware he'll be bringing to Seattle.

He was named a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball and won the Dick Howser Award as the nation's top college player and the Johnny Bench Award as the top catcher.

Zunino thanked his family for their support Tuesday. He attributed much of his baseball success to his relationship with his father, Greg, who is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

“He's definitely been the person to expose me to the game,” Zunino said. “No matter bad game or good game, he just always tells me to look forward to the next day and playing again, so he's helped me out tremendously.”

Zunino was on hand to see Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on the mound Tuesday night.

“I'm excited I have the opportunity to be here and watch him pitch a game live,” Zunino said. “You see it on TV all the time, and his numbers and his career so far is something else. To be able to have some seats to watch him pitch live, I can't wait for that.”

Zunino will start his professional baseball career in Everett, Wash., where he will play for the Single A Everett AquaSox of the Northwest League.

“We'll let him play there, and we'll see what happens as the summer unfolds,” Zduriencik said.

Zunino is eager to prove himself to the Mariners' front office.

“I need to go out there and play well and prove to them that I'm capable of playing at the highest level, and I'm just looking forward to doing that and hopefully proving that to them,” Zunino said.

When asked Tuesday what he thought he could bring to the organization, Zunino said he was “a hard-nosed player. I take every game one game at a time and play as hard as I can. I pride myself on my defense and working with the pitching staff, and I obviously enjoy swinging the bat also.”

Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara was impressed by what he and Zduriencik witnessed when visiting Gainesville to see Zunino in action during a series in April against rival Georgia. The Gators defeated the Bulldogs 3-2 in a 16-inning marathon game on Friday night, and the Mariners' brass was on hand for the two games that followed.

“In the two games that we saw him after catching 16 innings on Friday night, he didn't drop a ball, there wasn't a ball that got past him, didn't miss blocking a ball and he caught everything clean,” McNamara said. “What he does behind the plate I think is going to be very important to this organization as we move forward.”

Zunino's batting and catching ability were key factors in why he became Florida's highest-ever draft pick.

“Every once in a while, a high first-round type talent is out there (at catcher), and that's what we saw in Mike,” McNamara said.

Despite Florida's lack of success in Omaha this year, Zunino seemed positive about his junior season with the Gators.

“It wasn't how we drew it up by any means, but it was baseball. I mean we went out there and didn't play as good as we wanted to and we caught some bad breaks and that's how it is,” he said. “In the long run, I think we had a great season and a good season to look back on.”

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