In a season of things that went wrong, Michael Saunders was (kind of) a bright spot, giving fans a taste of his offensive potential and showing good range in the outfield. Though Saunders contributed only .3 WAR, Mariners fans generally seemed optimistic about Saunders, partially because his last season was so abysmal, and partially because Saunders had stretches of playing very well in between shoulder, wrist, and finger injuries.
Though that may make him look injury prone, his shoulder injury came from crashing into a wall, and didn’t sideline him long. The same goes for his wrist and finger injuries: they are things that may have hurt his production a little bit, but they’re likely not signs of recurring injury problems. He didn’t have any tears or breaks, he just happened to take a few unlucky bumps as the season went on.
What seems to have fans most optimistic about Saunders’ future is that his power has already partially translated to the major leagues. He posted a solid-respectable .156 ISO, after putting up an exciting .234 mark in AAA Tacoma just a year ago. With 10 home runs, 11 doubles, and 2 triples in his 100-game stint this year, it seems like Saunders could develop into a 20 (or more) home run player in the next year or two.
Saunders took another step forward at the plate this year in the form of discipline. While Saunders looked lost in 2009, swinging at almost anything leading to a terrible 4.7% walk rate, Saunders managed to take more pitches this year and ended the season with an above average 10.7% walk rate. That’s higher than the Mariners’ leader in walks, Chone Figgins (10.5% walk rate.)
With Saunders’ contact also rising, (up to 75.5% of the time he swings from 70.9% in 2009) it’s fair to think his low .260 BABIP will also improve. If Saunders can make better contact, he could fit well into the lineup as a 2, 5, or 6 type of hitter.
While Saunders’ defensive ratings were simply average, (.7 UZR between LF and CF) it must also be stressed that Saunders only played 100 games in 2010, so there is not much of a sample size to draw from. In fact, if we just look at his defensive abilities career wise, he has a UZR score of 5.9 in 146 games. Saunders looked like an above-average defender this year after looking outstanding a year ago, so I think it’s safe to say Saunders can be considered an above-average defensive player.
So what does his future look like in Seattle? Well, Saunders is young, turning 24 this November, and has about one full year of service time. Potential wise, Saunders could end up being a 3 WAR player with a couple of peak seasons between 4 and 5 WAR, but I feel safe saying Saunders will put up close to 2 WAR next year, and it’s not out of the question that it’d be between 2 and 3 if his periods of health (June and July, where he compiled a .763 OPS) are a sign of his immediate capability as a hitter. The Condor should be a solid, if not better piece of the Mariners for years to come.