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.

3 Comments

It’s shocking to me that you and many others are jumping on the Michael Saunders’ bandwagon. Last season, Saunders made Chone Figgins look like an all star at the plate. He was the absolute worst hitter on the team, and I don’t think there was a close second. Conversely, Casper Wells arguably had the equivalent season to Mike Carp, with fewer at bats, and is obviously a much better defender. Yet Mike Carp has left field locked up, and Casper Wells is literally a footnote. I can’t help but feel that sportswriters are more interested in the feel good story than writing honestly about who is the best person for the position. I like Saunders and want him to succeed, but only after he’s earned it, by hitting consistently at the AAA level. Casper Wells established himself as a major league player in Detroit, and continued to develop in Seattle before he went on the DL. He’s in camp now, healthy and ready to play. Please make him your next feel good story. It’s just better for the Mariners that you do.

Totally agree, Mike. Casper is a “gym rat” on the baseball diamond and has worked hard to improve his baseball skills. After gicing up Fister to the tigers to get Wells, Casper deserves a full shot at one of the OF positions.

Not to worry, I’ll be writing plenty about Casper as well and in fact did a big story on him about a week or two before we even got to camp. There are lots of days this spring and lots of stories to tell. Wells is definitely in the mix for the center field job and will get every chance to show that.

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