Saturday, February 5, 2011

Michael Saunders: 2011 or Bust?

I'm wicked good in Canada
Based on a little back and forth over at the Facebook  page I had with some readers, I thought it was high time we took a look at Michael Saunders and just what we might expect from him in 2011.

First, the good:  Michael Saunders has a really quite impressive resume when it comes to hitting in the minor leagues.  Over six seasons in the minor leagues, he compiled a .276/.361/.441 triple-slash line while showing increasing power, tremendous bat speed, and demonstrating fantastic defense and a plus arm.  This isn't padded by the low rookie leagues either - his totals at AAA are .274/.346/.449 with 16 home runs in 109 games although he has begun to abandon his running game with just 11 swipes in the same time frame.

Baseball America once ranked Saunders the #4 PCL prospect just behind Buster Posey, Neftali Perez, and Travis Snider.  This is a guy that ought to be a contributor on a major league team.

His minor league time was highlighted by 2009 where he went .310/.378/.544(!) with 13 HR's and 58 runs in just 64 games at AAA.  That got him his call up to the big club.  Where he subsequently laid an egg.

The bad:  Saunders strikes out too much for a guy with his particular batting profile.  He's probably the type of hitter who, in his prime, could hit 20 HR's, but is probably more of a 15 HR, 12 stolen base kind of guy.  His K rate in the minors was typically in the mid-to-high 20's with a couple of seasons in the low 30's.  His time in the bigs showed about the same kind of strikeout rate with 32.8% and 29.1% in '09 and '10 respectively. This is probably going to prevent him from ever hitting for particularly high average.  It's hard, very hard, to hit for high average when you strike out 30% of the time.  To expect him to hit higher than .270 is probably too much.

He has struggled mightily to hit left handed pitchers at the major league level (.202/.256/.345) although he demonstrated an ability to hold his own against southpaws (and even earlier in his career, he hit better vs. lefties).  This has resulted in all sorts of platoon cries, which to many of the Mariner fanbase sound ridiculous for a 2011 team that is probably going to battle for nothing other than trying to stay out of last place.  And I'd have to say the Log agrees with that sentiment.

Without getting terribly geeky on you, he has gotten the short end of the stick on luck with the few balls he's hit relative to ground balls and fly balls and batting average on balls in play, but the sample size is so damn small that there's really no smoking gun there.  But he certainly hasn't been lucky in any department.

Saunders ought to be our starting left fielder.  He is a very good defensive outfielder and he's got the pedigree of a guy that can handle the bat as well.  He's 24, so it's not as if we are rushing a baby.  But with the Gabe Gross and Jody Gerut pickups, it's either simply organizational depth or a signal that the team isn't terribly comfortable with their left field options.  So Saunders probably has plenty to prove.

2011 isn't likely going to be the season the Mariners challenge for the pennant, so I get the sense that this will be the opportunity for Saunders to either do his business or get off the pot.  He certainly has the potential to be an exciting player for the future of this team so here's hoping the front office has the patience to give him the at bats to adequately assess him.

And the Log hopes he rips the cover off the ball, just to be clear...

Go Mariners.

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