Blue Jays leadoff hitter: A case for Michael Saunders


While Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki are the likely candidates to bat lead off for the Blue Jays, a healthy and productive Michael Saunders could creep in to the conversation

After his 2015 season was derailed, 2016 presents the first opportunity for Michael Saunders to make a meaningful impact for the Blue Jays.

While Saunders role is not certain, Spring Training will allow him the opportunity to prove that he can not only man the open left field position but be a top-of-the-order contributor for one of the best offenses in baseball.

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In 2014 with the Mariners, Saunders slashed .273 / .341 / .450. While the rest of his offensive stats lacked much to be desired (8 Homers, 38, Runs, and 34 RBI’s), that can largely be contributed to the lackluster lineup around him at the time. While he might not have power numbers, that isn’t really something the Jays are looking for anyway. They want a top level contributor who can get on base, letting Mount Crushmore do it’s thing.

That said, Saunders will have to compete every step of the way just to be included in the Jays starting lineup. The player in direct competition is, of course, Dalton Pompey. While his electrifying speed and hitting potential are sure to make him an outfielder of the Jays future, he has yet to demonstrate the ability to contribute consistently at the Major League level offensively.

In 2015, Pompey slashed .223 / .291 / .372. While this is does not at all represent the player he will be, it demonstrates who he is now. He will need to make significant strides in Spring Training if he is to challenge Saunders for the job. Saunders, meanwhile, has to present himself as being as good as his 2014 numbers.

Assuming he does win out for the starting gig, the next likely options for lead off man are Troy Tulowitzki and Kevin Pillar. While Tulo, when healthy, wields a franchise-worthy bat, that was not exactly seen in Toronto last year where he slashed .239, .317, .697. There is every expectation that Tulo will be back to his old self this year, and once again be a force to be reckoned with. If he is, the Blue Jays may find better value from him slotted fifth in the order behind Edwin Encarnacion.

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Doing so will cause more strain on opposing pitchers, and increase the overall effectiveness of the lineup. That would make Pillar the next potential option. Pillar had a career year all the way around last year, posting an impressive slash line of .278 / .314 / .399. Pillar was a revelation in the bottom of the order, making key contributions from a roster spot that generally is not. While his Average and OPS are higher than Saunders’ 2014 stats, his OBP is not.

Given the name of the game for a leadoff hitter is simply getting on base, it would appear that Saunders has the clear advantage in that capacity. Fangraphs ‘ STEAMER has Saunders’ OBP as .324, which is still a solid base line. Considering the offensive haven that is Rogers Centre will be his home, it is not unreasonable to imagine Saunders being significantly more productive.

While much is speculation, Saunders has proven that he can compete at the Major League level, and should he come close or even exceed his 2014 numbers. If that’s the case, the Blue Jays will not only have a solid fill in left field, but an unlikely candidate for leadoff man as well.

With Devon Travis out, Spring Training will be where Saunders can not only prove he’s healthy, but a worthy contributor to the juggernaut of an offense that he will be supporting.