One of the players the Mariners will be counting heavily on to see some improvement is LF Michael Saunders.
Saunders, 24, is coming off a 2010 campaign in which he posted a .211 batting average with 10 homers and 33 RBI. His OPS of .662 left plenty to be desired. He did however show the flashes of power and plate discipline that the Mariners coaching staff want to see from him on a consistent basis.
Coming into the 2011 season, Saunders will be one of the main candidates to start everyday in left field. Saunders has played parts of two seasons, accumulating 411 at bats in 146 games. His main competition entering spring training comes from veteran Milton Bradley who is in line to be paid $12 million this year (not to mention the $5.5 million the M’s are sending the Cubs for Carlos Silva who was traded for Bradley) and a couple of non-roster invitees in Jody Gerut and Gabe Gross.
Saunders, though, has one thing that none of his competitors can bring to the table — youth. And what comes with that youth is potential.
Saunders has always been a player that brings a host of skills to the table with his size, speed and power ability. He plays solid defense in the outfield at all three positions and as a left-handed hitter, ideally suits the dimensions of Safeco Field.
2011 is a transitional year for the Mariners. Manager Eric Wedge and General Manager Jack Zduriencik are in the process of a youth movement with the franchise. The season will be about giving young players every opportunity to establish their presence at their respective positions. Saunders is a huge part of this process.
What the Mariners will realistically be looking for from Saunders, numbers wise, to signify progress and keep them from looking elsewhere to fill the LF position come next offseason will be numbers in the range of .250 avg with 15 homers and 60 RBI. An OPS of .770 and 10-15 stolen bases would also be desired.
In my opinion, Saunders just needs the everyday playing time and to stay healthy. I think he is in for a very solid, breakthough season in which he will post a line of .260/.350/.450 with 20 homeruns, 70 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
Do that and Saunders will be holding down LF for the M’s for years to come.