Michael Saunders plays for Canada Now

By Ben Hamill - April 01 2015
Jays Return to the Playoffs

Michael Saunders was a baseball and sports prodigy of sorts growing up in Victoria. He played in the Little League World Series, his school won the BC High School Basketball Championship, and won the Premier League Most Valuable Player award at 18. He began his professional baseball career in the Seattle Mariners organization, just a short drive (and ferry ride) from home. Last year the Mariners traded Saunders to….our very own Toronto Blue Jays. Michael Saunders was never considered a bust in Seattle; he simply never reached his potential. His baseball odyssey is a story of growth, maturation, and perseverance that any athlete would be well advised to emulate.

Turning Pro at 18

Michael was born and raised in Victoria, BC. He was a top high school player but was not considered a “can’t miss” talent. Michael decided to turn pro straight out of high school and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Given the proximity of Seattle to Victoria, you could say that the Mariners had decided to use their 11th round pick on a “local boy”. Eighteen year old 11th round picks are not thought of as future big leaguers but Michael has always worked hard. He was fast but not blazing fast. He played solid but not spectacular defence. He had power but not extraordinary power. He had the drive to make every play and was willing to sacrifice his body to do so.

Rebounding from a Bad Year

He improved incrementally, season by season. As a 19-year old, he hit .270 in A Ball. The next year was a down year but he followed with a .299 average in the California League and .288 late the same season in AA. In 2008, Michael played in AA for 67 games and was promoted to AAA. He began the next season in AAA and hit .313 in 243 at-bats. He was brought up to the majors by Seattle on July 25th, 2009, still a few months shy of 23 years of age.

Not the Typical Modern Player

In the modern era, most 23 year old rookies have played college ball. Although the college experience is certainly helpful, Michael’s path was quite different: he played baseball in some form every day! It is a great tribute to him that in four seasons he rose from an unknown 11th round draft pick to the major leagues! Michael never was able to take the next step as a Mariner, to become a star in the league. Players like Michael Saunders are often called journeymen, meaning players who are good enough to play in the majors but are not even considered average

Michael Saunders Traded to the Blue Jays

This designation is not entirely fair in Michael Saunders’ case. He is still young by baseball standards. At 28, he is in his “prime” the years of optimum production. It is therefore significant that after last season Michael was traded by his “hometown” Seattle Mariners to Canada’s team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays hope to be contenders in the American League East, a division that has only one solid team, the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays have all fallen on hard times in recent seasons giving the Blue Jays a solid opening to challenge for the division title or a wild card berth in the playoffs.

Maturity Born of Adversity, Marriage, and Family

What kind of player are the Jays getting in Michael Saunders? Michael Saunders is a MAN. He has had to grow up to manhood while trying to excel in a very difficult profession. His mother passed away when he was twenty-five. The emotional blow may have delayed his development as a player. Michael freely admits that, when he started his career, he wasn’t emotionally or mentally mature enough for the rigors of professional baseball. He might very well have benefited by being in the cocoon of college baseball. Michael got married in 2011. He and his fiancée, Jessica, moved their wedding up a few months so Michael’s mother could attend. Being a husband and father has set his mind on a different set of priorities than before. He says that where once he played for himself and got down on himself terribly if he had a bad at bat, now he plays for his family.

A “Clean” Player

Michael has never been associated with illegal drugs or performance enhancing drugs. His accomplishments are those of a talented guy who played by the rules and made incremental improvement step-by-step, slowly but surely.

Michael as a Player Today

When Michael was drafted, he was thought to have some power potential. Modern baseball is power-crazy. Outfielders are expected to hit 30 home runs every year. Strike outs are discounted. Michael Saunders doesn’t fit easily into this scenario. He has what is called “occasional power”.

Michael also has developed into a very sound defensive outfielder. He may not make spectacular catches or throws from the outfield, but he can be counted on to throw to the right base, to make strong, accurate throws, and to position himself correctly taking into account the batter, the pitcher, the balls and strikes count, and the game situation.

The biggest criticism that has been made about Michael Saunders is that he gets injured. His injuries are not the sort that occur when players don’t take care of themselves. Michael’s injuries are usually because he plays hard on every play.

Michael is a Proud Canadian

As a boy, Michael Saunders dreamt of playing for the Blue Jays. He knows the business side of baseball; players don’t always get to choose which team they play for. When it became apparent that the Mariners were going to try to trade Michael, he hoped against hope to be traded to the Jays. Michael feels that as a Canadian, playing for the Canadian Major League team means he is representing not just himself or his team but all of Canada.

Michael already has some experience representing Canada on a big stage. He played for Canada in the 2008 Olympics and the World Baseball Classic in 2013. In 2013 he was named to the WBC All Star team for his offensive production.

Hope for a Future Revival in Toronto

Let’s hope that Michael Saunders can hush his critics and be a major cog a season that sees the Toronto Blue Jays return to the highest echelon of big league baseball!