Draft day arrives for Zunino, others

A few weeks ago, Paola Zunino joked how it would be ideal for her son, Michael, to be selected second overall during the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The first round and first compensation round begins today at 7 p.m. on the MLB Network and MLB.com.

Mom’s reasoning was because the second pick of the first round belongs to the Minnesota and the Twins’ Class A Advance affiliate is the Fort Myers Miracle. That way, Paulo could easily watch her son play with Fort Myers “just across the bridge” from where she manages condominiums in Cape Coral, Fla.

Mom may get her wish. Mike Zunino, a Florida Gators junior, is tabbed the top catcher in college baseball and many draft pundits expect the slugger to be selected in one of the top-five picks of today’s draft.

Of course, Zunino doesn’t care who drafts him.

“I’m very open-minded. I’m not any partial to any team,” said Zunino, who leads the Gators in most power offensive statistics. “Just whatever team decides to take me whenever that is, it’s just a blessing to me.”

Zunino said the impending draft was “an afterthought” during this weekend’s NCAA Baseball Regional in Gainesville, which concluded with a 15-3 win against Georgia Tech on Sunday. He hit a three-run homer, his Southeastern Conference-best 18th, and later tied a UF single season record for sacrifice flies to drive in another run.

“I’m just going to spend [Monday] with my family and just try to enjoy it as much as I can,” Zunino said.

Many draft experts believe Zunino will be picked by the Mariners at No. 3, but there hasn’t been any information leaked by the club, according to an article in The Bellingham (Wa.) Herald on Monday.

“If we think the best player at No. 3 is a high school player, we’ll take the high school player,” said Mariners scouting director Tom McNamera said in the article. “If we think it’s a college position player, we’ll take the college position player. If we think it’s a high school pitcher, a college pitcher – we’ll just take the best guy.”

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan sounded like he was going to give his players a couple of light days after dominating play during this weekend’s regional when they outscored three opponents 25-5.

“(Monday) is a big day. Tuesday is a big day,” O’Sullivan said. “I want these guys to enjoy the draft. It is part of our game. For me, I’m looking forward to watching our guys go off the board and put it behind them.”

Zunino isn’t the only Gators’ players who could get his name called today with left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana projected as high as late first rounders. Gators signee Lane McCullers, a right-handed pitcher and the Gatorade National Player of the Year from Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit, also could go on Day 1.

Florida relivers Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez could get their named called on Day 2 as mock drafts have them slotted to go between the second and fifth rounds.

Outfielder Preston Tucker is projected to be drafted in the Top 10 rounds as is right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall, although the latter has seen his draft stock dip in recent weeks with some projecting him as a 10-15th round pick. Another UF pitcher to watch is Greg Larson, who some have slotted to go in the middle rounds.

Florida will host the Gainesville Super Regional this weekend against the winner of today’s Raleigh Regional final between North Carolina State and Vanderbilt.

Players will lift weights this afternoon, but then be turned loose to watch the draft.

“They’ve worked so hard that I think that they deserve a night with their families,” O’Sullivan said. “Just soak it in and enjoy and then we’ll refocus after the draft is done for our opponent next week.”

For the Zunino family, it figures to be an extra special day. Mike’s dad, Greg Zunino, is a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, but they hope drafting his son is not an option.

“We hope he doesn’t get to that pick — They pick 14th,” Paola said laughing. “But if he gets there, (Greg) told me they’ll take him.”

Here’s the schedule for this year’s draft:

Round 1: Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network

Rounds 2-15: Tuesday, June 5, at 12 p.m. ET on MLB.com

Rounds 16-40: Wednesday, June 6, at 12 p.m. ET on MLB.com

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.