Saunders could be in right spot to fill CF opening
One of the intriguing storylines of spring for the Mariners now will be who fills in for the injured Franklin Gutierrez in center field.
Michael Saunders appears the most logical replacement, if he can hit. That’s been a big ‘if’ for the past several years with Saunders, but he underwent an interesting offseason experiment to radically shorten and compact his hitting stroke and the results have been impressive so far with a home run, triple and double in three intrasquad games.
Saunders gets first crack at center field today when the Mariners face Oakland in their Cactus League opener. I talked to him this morning for a story that will appear later today on Mariners.com in which he explains his new approach and admits to being tired of “getting my butt kicked” the past few years by Major League pitchers.
Saunders knows he’s not going to get many more chances and he’s ready to grab this one by the horns. But he also took time to pay respects to Gutierrez, knowing all he’s gone through in the past two years as well.
“Obviously we all saw he’d worked his tail off to get to where he was at,” Saunders said, “especially after a tough year he had last year with health issues and everything. I know he was very excited to come in here and start playing ball the way he was used to again. It’s going to be a huge loss for us, because we’re all looking for him to have a big year.
“It’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that. I’m just going to go out and play hard every day and continue to try to hit the ball and square it up. Someone has to fill in and obviously I hope to be that guy.”
The Mariners have other candidates, with Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson and even Chone Figgins figuring to get opportunities in center this spring. But if Saunders really has discovered a way to shorten his swing and be more productive at the plate, he could be the perfect answer to who can fill in for Gutierrez as he recovers from his partially torn pectoral muscle.