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Topic: michael saunders

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June 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Why the Mariners are taking so long with Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley is honing his outfield skills at Class AAA Tacoma and will be key to the next phase of the Mariners attempting to salvage their 2013 season. Photo Credit: AP

Dustin Ackley is honing his outfield skills at Class AAA Tacoma and will be key to the next phase of the Mariners attempting to salvage their 2013 season. Photo Credit: AP

Dustin Ackley keeps on hitting down in Class AAA Tacoma. The Mariners keep not hitting at the major league level — scrounging up three runs over 10 innings for a win last night, though it took two home runs and an extra frame to reach that meager total.

So, why no Ackley?

Well, the Mariners keep saying they want to make sure his hitting is “real” but by the time they figure that out, this season could be pretty much over for all intents and purposes. With jobs now on the line in the front office and coaching ranks, there’s probably a limit to just how large a sample size the M’s higher-ups can really afford to have with Ackley since none of these numbers and samples will offer any type of guarantee when it comes to his hitting in the majors.

So, no, that hitting being “real” isn’t the big reason he’s still down there. But his ability to play center field consistently is one of the reasons and looking at the team now, it’s probably the biggest reason he hasn’t been called up yet. Mariners manager Eric Wedge finally seemed to admit as much yesterday when I asked him about it pregame.

“I want him to have a little bit more time in the outfield in general,” Wedge said. “Whether it be left field or center field. Either way for me I think it works good. The reps in center field would just be a concern right now. I want to make sure he can do that.”

And that makes a little more sense given the context of where this team now sits. Because the Mariners aren’t liable to gain a whole lot more certainly with Ackley at the plate simply by waiting another few days or even a week to bring him back up.

But several more days of reps in center could make a difference. Especially given what the team needs to do next.

The Mariners need Ackley to be able to play center because they need a backup at the position to spell Franklin Gutierrez at least a couple of days per week. And realistically, once Gutierrez comes off the 60-day DL — he’s eligible as of Saturday and I’d expect the team to move rather quick — there still has to be a backup plan, for a variety of reasons.

First, nobody really knows how long Gutierrez will stay healthy. The Mariners have tried to insist before that they knew and had reasonable expectations for his good heath. They were wrong — for whatever reason, be it bad luck, injury-prone tendancies, slow recovery, whatever. They just don’t know for certain and haven’t guessed right yet.

So, if he goes down, there has to be a backup plan.

Right now, center field is manned by Michael Saunders and Endy Chavez. It’s doubtful both will still be here once Gutierrez and Ackley arrive.

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Comments | More in outfield | Topics: Dustin Ackley, endy chavez, franklin gutierrez

March 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Leadoff by committee for Mariners? Seems tough to avoid it

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Yesterday afternoon, I went on 710 ESPN Seattle on the Bob & Groz show and they stumped me right off the bat by asking who was going to hit leadoff for the Mariners. Who indeed? Sure, I’ve got the same list many of you have. But who would be the go-to guy? Tough to find an answer to that one. It’s one of the reasons I thought the Mariners might go harder after Michael Bourn.

Simply put, they don’t have a leadoff guy right now. They had Ichiro for years, but did not replace him when he left. Dustin Ackley was not the guy to go into this season with, primarily because of how badly he performed last season. The last thing you want to do with a guy who has yet to establish much of anything in the majors is saddle him with a batting order role that actually requires some responsibility — as I belive the first four or five spots in an order actually do.

After that, you can throw in whatever’s left.

But to bat a guy leadoff? Well, you’d better know he can handle it.

For the Mariners this year, they just don’t have a prototypical leadoff guy. I’d setlle for them just going with a guy who can get on base.

Based on recent history, they don’t really have that either.

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Comments | More in leadoff | Topics: Dustin Ackley, franklin gutierrez, Jason Bay

February 27, 2013 at 1:21 AM

Agent Scott Boras opposed to personalized skills training for players away from teams

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Make sure you read today’s story on Robert Andino. Tough not to root for him.

Some of you might have read our story and my blog post yesterday about a growing trend of players seeking personalized skills and conditioning training away from their respective teams. Well, count super-agent Scott Boras out on that front. Boras has been pre-occupied of late trying to find a landing point for free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse. But I’d called him up on this issue and he phoned back, wanting to make clear that he is entirely opposed to the idea of agents offering any skills training to clients apart from their teams.

Boras runs a training facility in California and recently announced plans to open another one in Florida. But he wanted to emphasize that he is only offering conditioning training to his clients. Any skills training, he added, has to come from the team.

“We would never consider doing something like that,” he said. “It’s just not practical. A coach has to be there with the player full-time and we can’t do that.”

Instead, he added, his facility offers conditioning work only to his clients and invites the team’s trainers down to work with players in the off-season.

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Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Justin Smoak, michael saunders, Scott Boras

February 26, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Modern players, including several Mariners, relying on more than just teams in seeking improvement

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Some of you may have already read my story in today’s paper about how several Mariners are continuing an MLB-wide trend of going outside their teams for more personalized skills training and conditioning. Much of this is driven by player agents, who recognize the fact that a healthy, productive player at the top of his game is going to command a bigger salary than the struggling player who isn’t being all he can be.

And when those players make more money, the agents themselves do. So, it’s in their best interests to work as a team with their player/client in order to strive for on-field production. That’s also, naturally, the end goal of the team itself, which invests millions every year in players and their development. With higher-end draft picks, the millions are invested the day the player signs. Then millions more once they go on to become a major league piece with a little service time. Even with low-cost players, if a young one doesn’t pan out, or a rebuilding plan fails, it can cost teams untold millions in lost revenue opportunities.

So, needless to say the stakes here are very high. And everybody wants a say in what type of training a player is going to be doing. Everybody wants their input into the development process. Where it gets complicated — and you see the potential for some real head-butting between teams and agents for control of the process — is once the players head home for the winter. As Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik correctly states in the story, no team has the resources to supervise every single player each and every day when they are scattered across the country and even the world.

Teams can pick and choose, maybe send a trainer to make a personal visit to a very special player’s home. But the resources just aren’t there. In the end, in many cases, the agents themselves have known the players since they were teenagers, have a vested interest in their individual development (as opposed to an interest in the entire team) and when you break it all down, they are probably best-positioned to be making the on-the-ground decisions regarding a player’s day-to-day well-being in the off-season.

It’s all great until somebody disagrees. And it happens, believe me. I once saw a former MLB power-hitter take his game to the next level when he stopped listening to what his manager wanted him to do when it came to being a pull-hitter. That manager — a very good hitter in his day and a former hitting coach as well — kept on that player until he wasn’t the manager any more. In comes a new manager and hitting coach, out goes the pull-hitting approach and what do you know? The hitter becomes a star and goes on to pull down eight-figures per year.

Like I said, this happens more often than you think in baseball, where the boss is still the boss and players are required to listen. This manager happened to be very good at what he did, but like all humans, he could be wrong from time to time. Mostly, he got it right, but that player and his agent — one of the biggest in the game at the time — weren’t so much concerned with the manager’s record on guiding the other 24 guys. It’s every man for himself in this rough-and-tumble business of professional — not high school, or Little League, or American Legion, but professional — baseball, where life isn’t always fair and players do get messed around with in the name of the greater good.

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Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Jack Zduriencik, michael saunders, nick franklin

February 22, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Mariners in spring debut against the Padres

Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez watches a Jedd Gyorko grand slam leave the park in the first inning of Seattle’s Cactus League opener.

1:40 p.m.: We’re midway through the sixth inning and it’s still a 6-0 game, so at least Seattle’s pitching has managed to plug the early Hector Noesi leak job. The Mariners have just two hits of their own today — singles by Michael Morse and Jesus Montero — so up to now, the first inning has been much of the story.

12:30 p.m.: So, that went rather well, didn’t it? I’ll spare you the short strokes. Hector Noesi threw 42 pitches, got only two batters out and yielded a grand slam to Jedd Gyorko along the way in falling behind 6-0 in the top of the first. Oliver Perez had to come on to get the final out on a hard grounder that shortstop Robert Andino made a nice play on.

In fairness, Noesi really did get three outs since Raul Ibanez let a Will Venable flyball to left field deflect off his glove for an error that put the first two batters on. That’s about all the fairness we’ll toss around after that stinkeroo turned in by Noesi.

The Mariners went 1-2-3 on just seven pitches in their half of the opening frame. Hey, it’s early. There, somebody was going to say it.


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Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: kendrys morales, michael morse, michael saunders

February 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Another tool in the intriguing kit of Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders employs a pool noodle he calls “The lifejacket” to help keep his swing true. Photo Credit: John Lok/Seattle Times

We’ll launch the Cactus League season this afternoon at noon Pacific time when the Mariners take on the San Diego Padres. The starting lineup is posted on the turn page.

If you happened to read my story in today’s paper, you’ll see that Michael Saunders has added a “swiming pool noodle” to the interesting, somewhat unorthodox  list of gadgets he is employing in order to keep his swing more compact and powerful. Saunders spent a second straight winter with Colorado-based private hitting instructor Mike Bard, who is taking on somewhat mythical dimensions around these parts when it comes to how he’s transformed the fate of a Mariners outfielder many had written off this time last year.

Coming on the heels of our Justin Smoak story the other day, in which he worked with his own agent, Hunter Bledsoe, a former college hitting star, I think it’s important to note the similarities between the two approaches.

In Smoak’s case, he and Bledsoe employed “slow practice” their first month together in the batting cage last October. Smoak would take anywhere from 30 seconds up to a full minute in order to take one swing — something that enabled him to focus on the minutae that goes into every part of perfecting the technique.

The idea was for Smoak to develop the muscle memory needed to carry out every part of the swing without having to think about it. Once he and Bledsoe sped things up in the months ahead, it became easier to swing properly and more true.

Saunders and Bard are not doing things exactly that way.

But something Saunders said to me stood out.

“Swinging is all muscle memory,” Saunders said. “And that’s the goal, to critique myself and be hard on myself and keep doing this over and over until I get it right.”

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Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Hunter Bledsoe, Justin Smoak, michael saunders

January 31, 2013 at 8:23 AM

What Casper Wells must do to up his stock with the Mariners

Mariners outfielder Casper Wells has some work to do if he’s to convince team he’s more than just a part-time player. Photo Credit: AP

One of the questions that has continued to pop up all winter long as the Mariners keep adding outfielders is “What about Casper Wells?”

Indeed, what about Wells? We’re still less than two years removed from the Doug Fister trade with the Tigers in which Wells arrived in Seattle as possibly the front-liner to the deal. Folks forget how valued Wells once was in Detroit as a prospect, with the idea that he might one day be that team’s everyday center fielder. That ended when the Tigers acquired Austin Jackson from the Yankees, but the point is, Wells was a versatile enough athlete that he was viewed as a potential star at three outfield positions.

That star had faded somewhat as a prospect by the time the Mariners acquired him. But it’s safe to say the Mariners viewed Wells as at least a major league regular in the outfield corners as well as a potential backup in center field. Today, Wells is viewed as a fourth outfielder and one who might not hang on to that role if some additional moves are made.

So, what happened? Better still, how can Wells rehabilitate his image within his own organization?

Not to go all CSI on you, but the forensic examination as to what killed Wells’s reputation won’t take very long. It wouldn’t even fill 15 minutes of an hour-long episode. All the evidence needed is contained in the period of June 28 through Aug. 7, when the Mariners allowed Wells to start in 34 consecutive games.

His results: a .209 batting average, .267 on-base percentage, .381 slugging percentage and .648 OPS with 36 strikeouts and only 8 walks in 151 plate appearances.

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Comments | More in casper wells | Topics: casper wells, doug fister, eric wedge

December 20, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Look for Michael Saunders to play much more right field for Mariners this year

Look for Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders to see more action in right field this year as part of upgrades in a revamped home ballpark. Photo Credit AP

There are only so many more things we can say about the Kendrys Morales deal before we find out who’s still here in spring training and see how they play. Yes, the Mariners could now, in theory, trade either Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero if the right deal comes along. Personally, I’d like to see how they fare in the revamped Safeco Field confines first. Also, until we know for sure that Morales can play first base more than a few times per week, he’ll have to have another guy there to replace him and it won’t be Montero or John Jaso, who the Mariners have already ruled out as realistic first base options.

One guy I still believe this deal dramatically lessens the chances of the Mariners getting is Nick Swisher, primarily because a lot of his value to Seattle lay in his ability to play first base as well as right field. Well, you now have Morales and Smoak as switch-hitting first basemen, so adding Swisher there really crowds the field. Also, I’m not sure the Mariners will be willing to spend the money needed to get Swisher. The money is still there, since the Mariners are actually saving a couple of million by flipping the Jason Vargas arbitration cost for that of Morales.

But having the money there, in theory, is not the same as actually spending it.

So, we’ll see what the Mariners actually do. If I’m wrong and they do indeed make a push for Swisher — and actually land him instead of finishing second — then you’d have a longer-term guy than Morales as a first base option. That part makes sense when it comes to protecting the team, as well as providing some leverage in what to do with Morales as you look towards an extension.

But still, Swisher is looking for impact-performer type money and the Mariners don’t view him as an impact bat in the Hamilton mode. I wrote about this last week when we discussed slugging percentages and the impact a one-swing game-changer can have on a lineup. So, for me, with Swisher, the money will be the big factor. The Mariners just got a guy I’m sure they view as more of an impact bat in Morales and they got him plenty cheaper than the Swish will wind up signing for.

Just my take. Feel free to disagree.

As for what will happen in the outfield this year, the one guy who could play a very prominent role in it is Michael Saunders. And I can see him performing that role more from right field this year than most of the people I read are really envisioning at this point.

Now, that would change if Swisher is signed. But since I really don’t see that happening, I do feel Saunders will be seeing quite a bit of time in the other outfield corner. The fact that Saunders is seen more as a left fielder and center fielder has more to do with Safeco Field than anyplace else. Safeco has always made it tough for left field defenders because of the way it’s configured and so, the Mariners naturally try to get their better outfield defenders at that spot.

But with the fences moving in, that will likely change.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: kendrys morales, Michael Bourn, michael saunders