Before the start of last season, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto declared 2016 to be “The Year of Mike Zunino.” Simply put, it wasn’t. Most of the season was spent in Triple-A, and while he showed some marked improvement at the plate during his weeks with the big-league club, it wasn’t enough. Zunino was the talented defensive catcher he’d always been billed as, sure—but his offensive struggles ran deep enough that it would take more than a few steps forward to justify a roster spot.
This season, by the beginning of May, Zunino wasn’t offering much to justify said roster spot. The result? A trip back to Triple-A, seemingly indicating that 2017 might play out much like 2016 for the former first-round pick. But a funny thing has happened since Zunino got called back up to the major leagues nearly a month ago—he’s been really, really good.
Zunino has hit .338/.386/.738 since being called up on May 23. He’s been especially hot over the past two weeks, with a .366/.435/.902 line that makes him the third-best hitter in baseball over that short stretch. He’s been making good contact, he’s been ruthless in punishing pitchers’ mistakes, he’s even been making a bit of progress on what’s always been his biggest struggle: plate discipline. His overall profile isn’t showing a radically different player—even with that progress, his strikeout rate has still been nearly 40 percent and his walk rate still barely over 5 percent—but it’s showing, simply, Zunino as the best possible version of himself.
This isn’t the first time that things have suddenly seemed to finally click for Zunino; when he was called back up from Triple-A last August, he had somewhat similar success. But that didn’t last as long as this has, and it didn’t reach heights nearly as high. It’s not going to last forever, no, and it in all likelihood won’t be like this for too much longer—this very well might be the coming of a new version Mike Zunino here to stay, but even the new Mike Zunino can’t keep slugging .900. But it’s been a really beautiful month for a player who hasn’t had many of them, part of a Mariners team that has been riddled with injuries this season and largely underperformed. Enjoy Mike Zunino’s beautiful month, however long it lasts.