Rainiers' Zunino continues raking

Mariners prospect hits grand slam, tops Minors with 16 RBIs

By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com | April 9, 2013 9:53 PM ET

A big part of Mike Zunino's game is his confidence. At this point in the season, he's got every reason to believe in himself.

Zunino collected just one hit on Tuesday night, but his grand slam helped power the Triple-A Seattle Mariners past the Sacramento River Cats, 9-5.

With the Rainiers clinging to a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning, the Mariners' No. 3 prospect took the first pitch he saw from River Cats reliever James Simmons over the center-field wall.

"I was just trying to look for something a little elevated," Zunino said. "Bases loaded, one out, I was just looking to get something up. I was just looking for a fastball elevated and it just carried. The center fielder made a good attempt and it made me think twice about it, but it just got over. My main goal was just to drive those guys in; hitting it out was a bonus."

Zunino continued the torrid start to his first full pro season. He's batting .429 with four homers and a Minor League-leading 16 RBIs in only five games. The 22-year-old catcher boasts a 1.696 OPS and already has a three-RBI night, two four-RBI games and a five-RBI effort.

"I think I'm just trying to stay within myself," Zunino said. "I see people get excited when the season starts with wanting to get off to get to a great start. That [start] has a lot to do with the guys hitting in front of me. They're off to great starts, getting on base for me. [I'm] not trying to do too much, just trying to do what the situation lets me."

Selected third overall in last year's Draft, the University of Florida debuted with short-season Everett and made quick work of the Northwest League. He batted .373 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 29 games before the Mariners promoted him all the way to Double-A Jackson, where he hit .333 with three homers and eight RBIs in 15 games.

"I go into everything trying and knowing that I have a chance," Zunino said. "A big part of the game is having confidence in yourself. Knowing that you can do it and trusting yourself and your coaches and teammates is another thing."

Zunino is coming off his first Major League Spring Training. And while he put together a .911 OPS in the Cactus League, the biggest thing was gaining experience and spending time with Mariners veterans.

"Being a young player, it's nice to learn from Major Leaguers and seeing how they handle situations," he said. "[I was] learning my swing, learning what I need to do to get to the right position [with my swing]."

Against Sacramento, Zunino caught Danny Hultzen for the second time in a week. The Mariners' No. 2 prospect, allowed three runs -- two earned -- on four hits and struck out six over five innings to improve to 2-0. Hultzen is part of a starting rotation that includes No. 5 prospect James Paxton and big league veteran Jeremy Bonderman.

"It's been a lot of fun," Zunino said. "We have a different caliber of guys with different pitches and pitch speeds. As a catcher, it's fun. I ask them to throw strikes and compete, and they do that."

Alex Liddi went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and Denny Almonte hit his first Triple-A homer for the Rainiers, who sit atop the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division with a 4-2 record.

A's No. 12 prospect Michael Taylor had three hits and drove in two runs for the River Cats.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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