Michael Saunders made two breakthroughs while spending close to a month in Venezuela this fall, and both figure to serve the Seattle Mariners prospect well in the future.
The first was learning how to order - in Spanish - a ham and cheese sandwich, with mustard. For a Canadian who just turned 23, that may have kept him alive away from home.
The second was finding comfort in the rebuilt batting stance Seattle hitting coach Alan Cockrell helped him find in September, then helped him refine in Arizona in October.
Just home from Venezuela - and fighting the swine flu - Saunders sounded upbeat on the telephone.
“I worked with Alan an hour a day the last few weeks of the season, then took regular batting practice with the team,” Saunders said. “Alan spent six days in Arizona with me working one-on-one, and then I took it down to Venezuela.”
The results? In 22 games, Saunders batted .353, scored 18 runs and had three doubles, three triples and two home runs in 85 at-bats. He had 17 RBI and a .421 on-base percentage.
What exactly did Cockrell do to Saunders and his stance?
“It’s a subtle change, but it makes me stay with my legs more than I had been,” Saunders said. “I’m driving my back knee a little more, and with more bend in the knees, it allows me to stay back, stay through the ball more.
“The two home runs I hit were on a hanging slider and a hanging curve. Down there, they throw a lot of off-speed stuff to American hitters. With my new stance, I stayed back on those pitches much better. The style of the game is different, too - they might bring in a reliever in the third inning to get a lefty vs. lefty matchup.”
Called up on July 25 last season, Saunders was considered the most game-ready outfielder in the Mariners farm system, and he arrived having batted .310 in 64 games with Tacoma, with 13 home runs, 32 RBI and a .378 OBP.
What followed was typical of most rookie mid-season call ups. Saunders struggled, showing speed - dropping six bunt singles - but no power. In 122 big-league at-bats, he batted .221 without a home run and with four RBI.
Those numbers had the club and fans wondering if Saunders was more a question than an answer. Now, at least Saunders believes in himself.
“I’m ready to compete for the job in spring training,” he said. “I’m better than I showed in Seattle. Alan helped me find something that really has my confidence higher. It was a huge learning experience. The big-leagues is a tough place to play when you’re not totally confident.
The Hall of Fame ballot has been announced, and there's some great reading on some of the candidates, new and old:
- Among the new names for consideration is that of Roberto Alomar. Here's the New York Times weighing in on that candidacy.
- Andre Dawson is on the ballot again, and Carrie Muskat talks about his chances this year - including endorsements from HOFers Ryne Sandberg and Tony Perez.
- A personal favorite, the always-classy Harold Baines, is on the ballot again. Among the more interesting comments on Baines is White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf admitted he feels responsible for Baines not getting 3,000 hits.
- It's the time of year to enjoy speculation, and Phil Rogers speculates on where a variety of free agents will land - from the big names to Miguel Tejada, Jim Thome, Chone Figgins and Hideki Matsui.
- Jamie Moyer had minor surgery to remove a blood clot that might have beome infected. He's expected to be released from the hospital on Monday.
- Need a feel-good read today? CC Sabathia hails from Vallejo, Calif. and the town hasn't forgotten him and is throwing a banquet to honor him.