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Friday June 22, 2012UF's Mike Zunino Named Baseball America's 2012 College Player Of The Year

Gainesville, Fla.

Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) was announced as Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year on Friday. He becomes the first Gator to earn the prestigious accolade since the award began in 1981. In addition, Zunino was the only member of the publication’s 2011 All-America first team to repeat as a first-team selection this year. UF junior left-hander/designated hitter Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) was tabbed a second-team All-American in the utility spot.

 

Zunino’s postseason honors continue to increase, as the first-team ABCA/Rawlings, Baseball America, Louisville Slugger and NCBWA All-American became Florida’s first-ever Dick Howser Trophy recipient last week and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Johnny Bench Award. He finished as the Gators’ “Triple Crown” winner, leading the team in batting average (.322), RBI (67) and homers (19), and paced the Orange and Blue in total bases (164), doubles (28), sacrifice flies (11) and slugging percentage (.669). He was also 9-for-10 on the basepaths. A two-time, first-team All-SEC recipient and two-time member of the league’s All-Defensive Team, Zunino registered a .994 fielding percentage, with three errors in 510 chances, and threw out 20 runners who attempted to steal on him.

 

Zunino was voted to the NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team for the third-consecutive season after belting homers in consecutive games against No. 24 Georgia Tech and he led the Gators with a .500 (4-for-8) clip in the pair of victories over NC State that punched Florida’s return ticket to Omaha. The first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners was 8-for-25 (.320) during the NCAA Tourney with team highs in slugging percentage (.720), RBI (12) and homers (3).

 

Compiled by Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt, here’s what Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and some of those who coached against Zunino had to say about him and what Zunino himself said about his standout season and collegiate career:

 

Coach O'Sullivan: "He's been a tremendous leader, both on and off the field. He's been a major reason why this program has taken the next step. Obviously he's improved each year, and I'm awfully proud of what he's been able to accomplish on the field, and off the field as well.

"(His leadership ability) didn't start when he got to Florida—it started well before that. He comes from a baseball family, and they've obviously done a really good job helping prepare him for this. I think it's just the want. He wants to be a leader. He's not afraid to speak up in front of his peers. To be able to step up in front of your peers and speak, I think it takes confidence and a heck of a maturity. The success we've had on the mound certainly starts with Mike. I think any pitching coach will tell you, your staff won't be as good as it can be without a guy who can take charge back there.”

"I think offensively, he's probably improved that part of his game more than anything else. He's always been a really good defender, always been able to throw, always been able to separate offense from defense. He's learned to use the other side of the field very well. Like most young hitters, he was very pull-oriented early in his career. His balance is a lot better, he stays through the ball better, and he's learned to drive the ball the other way.”

"I think his body can certainly handle the grind of catching—he's 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He's certainly made for that position. He held up great, and he's getting ready to get into a position where he's going to catch more than that. He's certainly physically able to do it. I don't think people realize how big and strong he is until you get up next to him, but his legs and forearms, he's a really well put together kid. He never complains about being hurt. There are days you know he's banged up a little bit, and he never says a word. This guy goes about his business. That's one of the things I admire about him—it's kind of a quiet toughness.”

"We're certainly going to miss him, but I'm sure every year we're going to have Draft picks. We don't plan on going anywhere. That's the special thing about Mike and this group of players is I do think they've elevated this program. It's up to the following group to kind of maintain it."

 

Mike Zunino: "Without the University of Florida, without the coaching staff, I wouldn't be where I'm at. They've sculpted me as a player and helped me tremendously. I couldn't be happier with the decision I made out of high school. It's been the best three years of my life playing here. I'm just grateful for it.”

"Coming in here out of high school, I was just raw. They saw potential in me, and they got the best out of it. I bought into what they were saying. I'm just grateful for what they did. Obviously, we didn't win the national championship, but I hope we laid the groundwork for what (O'Sullivan) wants to have in years to come."


Georgia head coach David Perno: "He's a catcher, he doesn't miss a game, runs the show, hits three-hole. The power, the leadership—he does it all. If I'm picking first, I'm picking Zunino. Any player in our league, it's him, no-brainer. He's just a phenomenal kid. It's amazing what he's done through the years there, and the durability is probably underrated. I don't know that he's missed a game in two years. I remember his freshman year he was catching, he got stung real bad and had to run off the field, and he didn't miss anything. He got some tape and went back out there.”

"He's almost like a good umpire—you don't notice him, other than he hits the ball out of the yard, makes every throw, blocks every ball. It's just amazing. Through the years, while he's been at Florida, you just have had to earn everything you got. You weren't getting any gifts from him. You could just tell the respect he commands. They just don't come around like him very often. He makes everybody better, no question about it."

Mississippi State head coach John Cohen: "I think the neat thing about that kid is, and I'm not taking anything away from his physical skills, but what makes him special to me is he is like having a coach on the field. He is such a game changer just between the ears, the way he plays the game. Yeah, he's got some power and some feel to hit, but he can make an impossible block. He's not the best thrower I've ever seen, but everything is around the bag. He's just a winner, man. He is a winner. He is the difference-maker for their club. He's been the guy. He runs the whole deal. You know a program is running on cylinders when, dadgummit, they've got a guy on the field who's running the show for them. He's a great player."

Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco: "When you look at Zunino, he plays one of the toughest positions as a position player, catcher or shortstop. They really lean on him, you can tell just from leadership, handling a great pitching staff behind the plate, he blocks balls, throws guys out. Zunino's the total package. He does it in all the phases of the game, defensively and offensively. I think he brings that intangible to the game as a great leader. You feel his presence on the field."

 

A first-team All-American by the NCBWA, Johnson was a second-team All-American by Baseball America and Louisville Slugger. Chosen first-team All-SEC for the past two seasons, he was 8-5 with a 3.90 earned run average on the mound and had 73 strikeouts in 90 innings, to go along with a .307 clip, 41 RBI, 24 runs, 13 doubles and six homers. The southpaw tossed his first career complete game to oust fourth-ranked South Carolina from the SEC Tourney on May 25 and matched his career high with four hits in the semifinal round the following day against Vanderbilt. During the NCAA Gainesville Regional, Johnson limited the high-powered Georgia Tech offense to one run on three hits over five innings on June 3 as the Gators cruised to a 15-3 victory over the Jackets to punch their fourth-straight ticket to Super Regionals. Johnson batted .429 (3-for-7) in the sweep of No. 11 NC State and tied the second encounter with the Wolfpack with a solo homer in the eighth inning of Florida’s eventual 9-8 triumph in 10 innings.


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