Don’t look now, but the Mariners have a center fielder with an OPS pushing .800 and we’re already in June. Not only that, a guy with a .340 on-base percentage, bunting ability, eight stolen bases and speed on the basepaths that enables him to score from first on balls hit to the gaps.
He’s even hitting same-handed pitchers — lefties — better than he is right-handers. Wow, where to bat a guy like this?
Hey, let’s hit him No. 8!
Now, now, I know. Let’s not get carried away. This is still Michael Saunders we’re talking about, a guy who, a year ago, seemed destined to spend the dwindling rest of his Mariners days locked up on some Class AAA island prison.
Not now. Right now, because of his splits, he’s blossoming into an everyday type of player you can count on higher up in your batting order. Somebody asked me earlier whether I could envision John Jaso ever leading off for this team. My reply would be, that Jaso has to become an everyday player first.
But yes, if he could continue to keep an OBP up where his now stands as a part-timer, we could consider it. It’s tough, though, when you don’t want to play him against left-handed pitching. He’s not where Saunders is right now.
I asked manager Eric Wedge post-game whether he feels Saunders performs better in the lower-pressure No. 8 spot and is better suited for that.
“I don’t think that that’s necessarily where he’s going to end up,” Wedge said. “I feel comfortable really hitting him anywhere. I think he’s a guy, who, with his skillset, can probably hit anywhere up and down the lineup.”
Well, that’s certainly interesting. Because as I’ve mentioned before, I’d love to see the Mariners eventually audition Saunders for a spot at the top of the order. Maybe not now, when the spot is taken, but at some point when there’s a vacancy.
I also mentioned last week that I thought Saunders might make a good No. 2 hitter in a lineup where Dustin Ackley is leading off and Kyle Seager batting third.
So, maybe we’ll get to see that at some point. Wedge certainly seems to be leaving that window open — though it could be a window for 2013, to be fair to him.
But Saunders wouldn’t be the first center fielder to bat in one of the top two spots of an order. That’s certainly where this team’s management used to envision him when he was first rising through the system.
They also envisioned some of the power seen lately, with two homers and five doubles his last dozen games.
To his credit, Saunders is humbly taking it all in stride.
“I’ve known all along I can be a productive major league ballplayer and a good one,” he said. “I needed to answer my own questions this off season and I did. And coming into spring training, I was ready to answer everybody else’s.
“We’re not even halfway through the year, so I know we still have a long season left. But I’m seeing my hard work pay off a little bit.”
The Mariners do have a long season left. They’ve started to show signs of life offensively for more than just a night or two. But as we saw tonight against Garrett Richards, a 24year-old they knew little of and could barely obtain video footage of, the Mariners are still vulnerable.
They are particularly vulnerable at the top of the batting order. And as we’re starting to see, there are readily-available alternatives who could prove useful as soon as the team chooses to employ them.