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Michael Saunders

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Michael Saunders

Michael Edward Brett Saunders
(The Condor)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Michael Saunders appeared for the Canadian national team in the 2008 Olympics and made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2009.

He was a member of the 2003 Canadian Junior National Team.

Saunders was drafted in the 11th round of the 2004 amateur draft by the Mariners as a draft-and-follow pick. After a year of junior college he was signed by scout Wayne Norton. He debuted professionally with the Everett AquaSox in 2005 and hit .270/.361/.474 and was thrown out in 7 of 9 attempts to steal. Baseball America named him the #13 prospect in the Northwest League. Saunders slipped to .240/.329/.345 with the 2006 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, though he did tie for third in the Midwest League with 8 triples and was stealing bases much more efficiently (22 for 29). He joined Team Canada for the Americas Qualifying Tournament for the 2008 Olympics and hit an impressive .448/.500/.586 with 3 assists in 7 games in left field. He led a team where four starting position players were former major leaguers in batting average and finished 5th in the tournament overall. Canada failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Saunders hit .298/.390/.470 with 99 runs, 15 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 40 tries in the minor leagues in 2007. He batted .299/.392/.473 in 108 games for the High Desert Mavericks and .288/.373/.442 in 15 contests for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. He tied Chris Nelson for 6th in the California League with 27 steals and was 9th in runs despite his late call-up to AA. Saunders also got the chance to shine in the 2007 Futures Game, in which he was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for the World team. He faced Jeff Niemann to open the first and grounded to 2B Chris Coghlan, whose error put Saunders aboard. Saunders stole second, beating Bryan Anderson's throw. Chin-Lung Hu then doubled home Saunders for the World's first run in their eventual 7-2 win. In the third, he coaxed a leadoff walk from Joba Chamberlain and again stole second, then scored on a hit by Hu. Gorkys Hernandez pinch-hit for him in the 5th against Luke Hochevar. He led Mariners farmhands in OBP. Baseball America rated him the #16 prospect in the California League, between Hainley Statia and Andrew Bailey.

Saunders joined Team Canada again for the 2007 Baseball World Cup and hit .381/~.533/.870. His 3 home runs tied Andy LaRoche, Justin Ruggiano, Chia-Hsian Hsieh and Yulieski Gourriel for the lead. Saunders missed the All-Star spot at DH, losing out to Italy's Max De Biase.

Saunders was less successful in the 2008 Final Olympic Qualification Tournament, batting .214/.250/.357. He did drive in six runs in seven games and Canada won the tourney to clinch a spot in the 2008 Olympics. Michael played DH in the competition. He had his best game in a crucial match-up with host Taiwan, driving in two runs (including Stubby Clapp with the tying run with two outs in the 9th) and breaking up a double play to allow Clapp to score another in their 6-5, extra-inning win.

In the 2008 Olympics, Saunders was Canada's second-best hitter, after Nick Weglarz. He hit .286/.333/.571 with 2 home runs and 5 runs in 7 games for the 6th-place team, which had 5 losses - all by one run. Saunders hit homers against the host Chinese national team and Cuba, a two-run shot off of Adiel Palma. He had a chance to tie it in the 9th against Cuba, down 7-6 with 2 outs, but struck out against Norberto González. In the preliminary round, his 2 homers tied Bryan Engelhardt, Chih-Sheng Lin, Weglarz and Alfredo Despaigne for second, one behind Dae-ho Lee.

Sunders made his debut with the Mariners on July 25, 2009, exactly a year after the Beijing Olympics. He managed to stick with the team the rest of the way, in spite of hitting only .221/.258/.279 in 46 games. He then played 100 games for the M's in 2010, improving his OPS+ from an awful 45 as a rookie to 85, with a line of .211/.295/.367, with 10 homers and 33 RBI. He played 21 games at AAA Tacoma in 2010, and then was back for another 64 games there in 2011 after starting the year in Seattle. He hit .288 with 7 homers and 38 RBI for Tacoma, but only .149 in 58 games in the American League. He finally spent a full season in the majors in 2012, having his best year in playing 139 games as the Mariners' right fielder. He hit .247/.306/.432, with 31 doubles, 3 triples and 19 homers, driving in 57 runs and stealing 21 bases for an OPS+ of 108.

Saunders was terrific as the starting RF for Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Even though Canada lost two of its three games, Saunders was named the MVP of the first-round pool with a mind-boggling batting line of .727/.769/1.273 with 7 RBI. He was also named to the all-tournament team as an outfielder. Playing for the Mariners that year on July 20th, he had the only hit for his team in a game against the Houston Astros and was the hero of a unlikely 4-2 win. Fellow Canadian Erik Bedard was on the mound for Houston and he did not allow a hit through the first 5 innings. With one out in the 6th, Saunders drew a walk, followed by another to Brad Miller, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nick Franklin for his team's first run; Miller scored on another passed ball to tie the score at 2-all, with Seattle still looking for its first hit. In the second, the M's were still hitless when Saunders came to bat again, with two on and two outs, both runners having reached on walks. Bedard had left, having reached his pitch count limit and Saunders greeted reliever Jose Cisnero with a double to the hill in the deepest part of center field at Minute Maid Park; it scored both runners and turned out to be his team's only hit of the game as they were shut down by two other relievers the rest of the way.

Saunders was given the nickname "The Condor" by Mariners coach Lee Tinsley.

Sources: 2007 Mariners Media Guide, 2005-2008 Baseball Almanacs, IBAF site, MILB.com, 2008 Team Canada Olympic roster

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