Although he hit a staggering .371 and controlled a pitching staff, which earned a 2.95 ERA, there’s always room to grow for the reigning SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino.
He does not have to look far for help. UF baseball head coach Kevin O’Sullivan starred as a catcher at the University of Virginia and has been instrumental in developing Zunino into a well-rounded player.
At UVA, from 1990-1991, O’Sullivan hit .351 and earned first-team All-ACC and All-ACC Tournament honors two years in a row.
“He has taught me a lot from defensive work to how to approach pitchers and just the mental aspect of being a catcher,” Zunino said. “Sometimes the bat is not going to be there, but that is not the most important part for a catcher.”
Zunino’s freshman year at the plate was not indicative of what the team has grown to expect from him. The junior batted only .267 his first year at Florida. Despite his youth, Zunino was ready to deal with hitting troubles.
“Sully (O’Sullivan) sort of prepared me for that,” Zunino said. “He prepared me from day one getting here that to be a good catcher you are going to have to be able to handle your staff. Just going day in and day out and handle that. If the bat comes, that is a bonus.”
Now O’Sullivan and Zunino have a new freshmen catcher to groom. Brandon Sedell, an AFLAC All-American from American Heritage-Plantation, has replaced departed catcher Ben McMahan as Zunino’s backup.
In addition to improving at the plate this fall, Sedell has worked on his throwing and his footwork, which Zunino said not many players know how to do coming out of high school.
“Right away, he has improved his flexibility in catching,” Zunino said. “He is starting to figure out that he doesn’t have to swing so hard and let the pitchers put in the power and barrel some up. He is just getting better day-to-day, which is the best thing you can do.”
Sedell has not only received help from Zunino. Former Gators catcher Buddy Monroe works with Sedell every day. Monroe played for the Gators from 2008-2009 after spending his freshman year with O’Sullivan at Clemson when the head coach was in charge of Clemson’s pitchers.
With 10 other freshmen coming into the fold for Florida, O’Sullivan wants to see how these new players respond to the intensity of college baseball.
“I think the consistency of being able to play day in and day out, their competitive spirit and how they handle adversity—because that is ultimately going to determine how well they do their first year,” O’Sullivan said. “This often times is the first time they ever experienced any failure.”
Failure fuels the Gators this fall. The Gators fell to South Carolina in the championship series in Omaha.
Florida’s quest to repeat its postseason success remains in play with the entire weekend rotation and veteran relievers such as Greg Larson and Steven Rodriguez returning for Florida.
Zunino’s job handling the pitching staff looks different than in years past. Familiarity with his pitchers has taken the place of learning a new crop of arms, which he said makes his job easier.
“The weekend rotation, especially, and key guys back from the pen—the guys we have brought in have been have very easy to learn how to catch,” Zunino said. “They have great arms and great command. It has been a smooth transaction.”