When Victoria, BC’s Michael Saunders was dealt from the Seattle Mariners to the Toronto Blue Jays more than a year ago, he was excited about the opportunity to play for “Canada’s Team”.
Unfortunately in February of last year, Saunders stepped on a sprinkler while shagging fly balls and tore his meniscus. Initially, the expectation was for Saunders to be on the disabled list until the All-Star break, however after having surgery to remove 60% of his meniscus, the estimate was reduced to 4-6 weeks.
Ultimately, rushing the 29-year-old left fielder back so quick made matters worse, as Saunders experienced continual discomfort in his knee in early May, missing several games after having fluid drained and receiving a cortisone injection.
He appeared in just 9 games for the Blue Jays, batting .194 with 3 RBI, and was officially shut down for the remainder of the 2015 season on August 18.
This past offseason, Saunders and the Jays new management core avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.9 million contract. The team has payed close attention to individuals like Saunders who have had trouble staying healthy, putting their promising careers on hold.
Jays management is placing a heavy emphasis on the scientific side of the human body and how it moves. All players currently have nutrition and weight-lifting programs built specifically to address their needs, and are guided every step of the way by a mini army of team staffers.
So far this spring, Saunders claims he’s fully healthy and his performance is proving so.
— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) March 17, 2016
He has gotten off to a hot start, already clubbing 3 home runs to go along with 9 RBIs over the span of 25 at bats in spring training. Ever since the Ben Revere for Drew Storen trade back in January, Saunders has been penciled in as the starting left-fielder in Toronto this season, and is even being considered for the leadoff spot in the Jays’ lineup to begin the 2016 campaign.
It’s safe to say Saunders is enjoying his second-time around with the Jays inury-free so far, as he alluded to last week with the media in Dunedin, Florida.
“Being able to play free and easy is something I wasn’t able to do last year,” Saunders said. “I knew it was going to be the biggest test. I think the last five to 10 per cent of rehab is getting over that mental hurdle of knowing that you’re healthy.”
Saunders has a credible history of representing Canada internationally.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, serving as Canada’s primary right-fielder, Saunders had 8 hits in 28 at-bats out of the third spot in the lineup. He scored 5 runs and had 4 RBIs in 7 games, while his 2 home runs led Canada to a 6th place finish. Saunders also represented Canada at the 2013 World Baseball Classic and was named to the All-WBC Team for his heroic offensive performance.
Like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, Saunders has an exceptionally patient approach at the plate, and specializes in spraying the ball to all fields. If all goes right, the BC boy should fit right in with the reigning AL East Champs.