MICHAEL SAUNDERS, CORNER OUTFIELDER
|Born: November 19, 1986
Drafted: 11th round, 333rd overall pick, 2004 (Mariners)
How Acquired: Minor League Free Agent
College: Tallahassee CC
Agents: Meister Sports Management
WTM’S PLAYER PROFILE
|Saunders was a top Seattle prospect for several years after signing as a draft-and-follow. He’s from Canada and, due to a visa shortage, he wasn’t going to be able to play in the US after he was drafted, so he went to a community college for a year and signed before the next draft. For much of his career, he’s had good, all-around skills, including just enough speed to play center and be a base-stealing threat. He was known in the minors for his ability to beat out bunts. He has good power and has generally been a patient hitter. He’s had high, but not-quite-alarming K rates. His platoon split in the majors — .710 OPS vs. RHPs and .681 vs. LHPs — has been minimal.
Saunders was slow to get established with the Mariners. He also began struggling with injuries in 2009, which probably affected his career at times. He seemingly got established in 2014, but missed most of the last half of that season and nearly all of 2015 with injuries. In between those seasons, Seattle traded him to Toronto. The 2015 injury was a significant knee injury that happened when Saunders stepped on a sprinkler. The injury probably had a lasting impact, as his baserunning, according to FanGraphs, dropped from good to below average. He also went from being passable in center to below average in the corners, which is probably where he’ll have to play now. Following the knee injury, Saunders had a big season in 2016, but collapsed in 2017. The Pirates signed him to a minor league deal for 2018.
Playing mostly in right, Saunders hit well in his debut, although he did strike out in over a third of his at-bats.
In full season ball, Saunders had a much tougher time, although he improved late in the season. He did at least cut his K rate, although it remained high, and he did well as a base stealer. The Mariners moved him to center field.
Saunders’ hitting improved dramatically, although it probably helped that he was playing in the most extreme hitting environment of all, at High Desert in the California League. He showed very good patience and also cut his K rate further. He split his time mainly between center and right. Seattle moved him up to AA late in the season. Afterward, Baseball America rated him the Mariners’ sixth best prospect.
While playing primarily center field, Saunders continued to hit well in AA, earning a mid-June promotion to AAA. He just held his own there, then missed the last month with a shoulder injury. BA rated him the Mariners’ second best prospect after the season.
Saunders had surgery on a torn labrum during the off-season and missed the first month of the season. Once he reported to AAA, he had his best season, or partial season as Seattle called him up in late July. He struggled to make contact in the majors. In AAA, he split his time between center and left, but he played mainly left for Seattle. BA again rated him the team’s second best prospect.
Seattle sent Saunders back to AAA to start the season. He struggled badly there, but the Mariners called him up in early May anyway. He played semi-regularly for them the rest of the year, mostly in left but occasionally in center. He struggled in the majors as well, with a high K rate. He was hurt by a low BABIP of .260. Saunders also missed brief periods at a number of points during the season due to finger, neck and three shoulder injuries. You have to wonder whether that might have impacted his performance.
Saunders opened the season as the starter in center for the Mariners and, obviously, had an extremely rough time of it. Seattle finally sent him to AAA at the beginning of June. He recovered there, although with a bit less power than in the past. The Mariners brought him back up in September and he went 1-for-24 through the end of the season.
Saunders spent the season in Seattle, primarily as the center fielder but occasionally playing left. He had a solid season at the plate, with decent power but a subpar OBP.
Saunders again spent the season in the majors, apart from a brief rehab in AAA. His hitting slipped a little from the previous year, mainly in the form of reduced power. He spent a little more than half his time in center and split the rest between the two corners.
Seattle opened the season with Saunders in right and, after a slow start, he got hot in May and June. The rest of his season, though, was plagued by injuries. He missed two months with a late-season oblique injury, and also missed time with knee and shoulder injuries. After the season, Seattle traded Saunders to Toronto for J.A. Happ.
Saunders suffered a significant injury to his left meniscus when he stepped on a sprinkler in February. He returned briefly in late April but soon went out for the rest of the year due to inflammation.
Saunders spent the entire season with Toronto and seemingly had a breakout year, hitting for good power while playing mostly in left. He became a free agent after the season and, a little surprisingly, was able to get only a one-year, $8M deal with the Phillies, with a team option for 2018.
Saunders opened the season as the Phillies’ right fielder, but he struggled so badly that Philadelphia released him in June. He signed a minor league deal with Toronto and hit just decently in AAA. The Jays called him up in September and he did little in limited action.
When they signed him, Saunders figured to compete for the Pirates’ vacant left field job with numerous other candidates. The very next day, though, the team acquired Corey Dickerson, who figures to be the starter. It’s unknown whether Saunders has a provision in his contract that requires the Pirates to put him on the 25-man roster by any particular time. If they do add him to the roster, they won’t be able to send him to the minors without his agreement.
|2018: Minor league contract
2017: $8,000,000 (plus team option with $1,000,000)
|Signing Bonus: $237,500
MiLB Debut: 2005
MLB Debut: 7/25/2009
MiLB FA Eligible: 2018
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: 7/25/2009 (since removed)
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2010, 2011)
MLB Service Time: 7.080
|June 8, 2004: Drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 11th round, 333rd overall pick; signed on June 13, 2005.
July 25, 2009: Contract purchased by the Seattle Mariners.
December 3, 2014: Traded by the Seattle Mariners to the Toronto Blue Jays for J.A. Happ.
November 3, 2016: Became a free agent.
January 19, 2017: Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent.
June 20, 2017: Designated for assignment by the Philadelphia Phillies; released on June 23.
June 28, 2017: Signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as a minor league free agent.
September 1, 2017: Called up by the Toronto Blue Jays.
November 2, 2017: Became a free agent.
February 21, 2018: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.