Mariners sending No. 1 pick to Everett

SEATTLE — The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Mike Zunino, the University of Florida catcher who was the Seattle Mariners’ top draft choice this year and the No. 3 overall pick.

And it’s not over yet for Zunino, whose cross-country travels end next week in Everett, where he’ll start his professional career playing for the AquaSox.

Since finishing his college career in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Zunino has been back to Florida, then to Wichita, Kan., and Lubbock, Texas, to accept awards. Tuesday, he was in Seattle to take a physical and sign a contract, today he leaves for New York for the presentation of the Golden Spikes Award and next week he travels to Kansas City for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

Following the All-Star game, Zunino heads back to the West Coast to join the AquaSox in Everett and begin working on what he and the Mariners hope is a long, successful professional career.

Make no mistake, Zunino is having fun with all of this, but what he is really looking forward to is getting back to baseball.

“I’m extremely excited,” Zunino said following his introductory press conference at Safeco Field on Tuesday. “I’ve been on the road for so long, and what I’m used to is putting on a uniform every day and playing, so I’m looking forward to finally getting to Everett and do that.

How long Zunino plays with Everett remains to be seen, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said, explaining that after Zunino settles in with the AquaSox, “we’ll watch him go from there.”

“I don’t want to make that prediction” on how long Zunino might stay in Everett,” the general manager added, “because you just don’t know. We expect him to go out and perform. It’s a nice group of kids that he’s with there, it’s a nice club.”

Zunino is somewhat familiar with the AquaSox. He played summer ball in the Cape Cod League with Everett shortstop Christopher Taylor. AquaSox manager Rob Mummau also is the Mariners scouting area supervisor for the southeast region and was very involved in scouting Zunino at Florida.

“The fact that the guy (who) signed him basically is going to be his manager is kind of unique,” Zduriencik said. “But to make any kind of predictions about what’s going to happen the rest of the summer, let’s just see what happens at Everett first.”

While Zunino isn’t predicting how his first year of professional ball might play out, he does plan on winning over the organization, as well as AquaSox fans, with the same style of play that made him a success at Florida.

“I’m just a hard-nosed player,” he said. “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.”

Zunino and a lot of other Mariners draft picks are getting a head start on their careers this season compared to players from previous draft classes. Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, the deadline for signing picks moved from Aug. 15 to July 13. That means instead of missing almost an entire minor league season, Zunino and other draft picks get valuable experience almost immediately after finishing their college or high school careers.

“It’s great,” Zduriencik said. “You look at the number of guys we have already signed, that signed within the first week, I do think the new CBA had an awful lot to do with that.

“In terms of this particular player, he wanted to get out and play. Mike was like, ‘I’m ready to go. You took me three in the country, and I’m ready to get going and start my career.’ The fact we have them for a month and a half is different than the past. Usually, we’re waiting until Aug. 15 and we don’t see the kid until the instructional league. Right now, he’s going to get a month and a half under his belt, and then we’ll see what happens in the fall.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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