Saunders Will Start Back In Triple-A

PEORIA, ARIZ. — Left fielder Michael Saunders got just enough of a taste of the big leagues in 2009 to believe he had a real shot to be with the Seattle Mariners in 2010.
He still does, but not to start the season.

The Mariners sent Saunders back to Triple-A Tacoma two weeks before the start of the season, surprising the prospect, who was given a day or two off before reporting from big league camp to the minor league facility.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said he's still high on the 23-year-old Saunders' future, but the additions of Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes didn't make Saunders' return path to the big leagues any smoother, and the Mariners' concern about his swing didn't help, either.

"We had a long discussion," Wakamatsu said. "We're still extremely high on him and (hope he) continues the path he's on right now. I liked what he did at the end of last year, and he went to winter ball and did a nice job."

Saunders, an 11th-round draft-and-follow out of Tallahassee (Fla.) CC in 2004, has progressed nicely through the Mariners' system. He hit .310/.378/.544 over 248 at-bats for Tacoma last year. But he got off to a slow start in his big league debut and the club was concerned about the length of his swing.

They cut his playing time and had hitting coach Alan Cockrell work with him intensively in pre-game workouts. Saunders then went to Venezuela this winter and implemented many of those changes designed to shorten his swing, thereby increasing its efficiency. But spring training showed that more work needs to be done.

"We felt that he needed to spend a little more time down there to refine those skills," Wakamatsu said, adding that could best be done by Saunders playing every day, something that wasn't going to happen with Seattle.

"As we are trying to get this lineup to playing every day, he's not going to get a whole lot of playing time," Wakamatsu added. "With his age and where he's at, he does have to play down there."

The manager said he wouldn't be surprised to have Saunders back with the big league team sometime this season.


• Righthander Miguel Celestino was sent to Boston to complete the deal that brought first baseman Casey Kotchman to Seattle.

• The Mariners signed Dutch lefthander Scott Ronnenbergh and assigned him to the Australian Summer League. Scott's father, Erik, was a professional pitcher in the Netherlands and his uncle, Martin, spent 1980 as a Padres minor leaguer.