Blue Jays need a lead off hitter and British Colombia native Michael Saunders is be their best option
The offense the Toronto Blue Jays has at their disposal is a once in a generation type offence, one that anyone could bat lead-off and they’d still lead the league in runs. 2015 saw a couple different lead off hitters, ranging from Jose Reyes to Troy Tulowitzki to Ben Revere. With Reyes traded for Tulo and Revere traded for Drew Storen, the Blue Jays have auditioned Kevin Pillar in the spring.
The results for Pillar haven’t shown up yet, hitting just .158 in 19 at-bats. Kevin could benefit from a 2-for-4 game or two which would make his look more appealing. It’s not as though Kevin has been a disappointment, after all 2 of his 3 hits are of the extra base variety while walking twice and not striking out yet. The walk total and lack of strike outs is encouraging for a guy that’s been criticized in the past for being a free swinging. Kevin played 159 games in 2015 walking 28 times with 85 strike outs.
The one wrench in Kevin Pillar becoming the next lead-off hitter for the Blue Jays is Michael Saunders, who has put on a hitting clinic this spring. After missing the majority of 2015 with a knee injury, which he suffered during last year’s spring training, Saunders has come to camp on a mission. Saunders is in a battle with prospect Dalton Pompey, Junior Lake, Dominic Brown and others for the starting left field job. Earlier in camp manager John Gibbons mentioned Saunders as candidate capture the lead off role, a role he has some experience in.
The inconsistent outfielder has all the tools to become an impact player, and at 29-yrs-old is entering his prime years. Saunders has spent much of his career hanging out at the bottom of Seattle’s lineup with 119 and 118 games batting in the 7th and 8th spots. In 45 games batting out of the lead off spot, Saunders holds a .253 BA with 17 walks and 46 strike outs.
Plate discipline hasn’t always been Saunders strongest tool, with a career mark of 9.3 BB% and 25.5 K%. Using Pillar’s career year in 2015, Saunders walks more than Pillar (4.5 BB%) , but strikes out more (13.5 K%). Pillar’s speed is better than Saunders, with a 20+ SB under his belt and no history of knee issues; however, I believe that Pillar’s speed is better suited at the bottom of the lineup with the big bats ahead of him. Saunders is a good base runner, at least he used to be, who can steal the odd base 52 SB to 20 CS. He is better suited for the station to station game the Blue Jays will implement through the first 6 hitters.
With Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion batting behind him, Saunders should see more fastballs as pitchers will try to get him out early. Saunders superior walk rate will also benefit the trio of sluggers by giving them more opportunities to come to the plate with runners on.
There is still a lot of spring training baseball to be played but Saunders will surely see time at the top of the batting come April if he continues to hit over .300 with power (3 HR in 7GP).
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