Saunders ready to compete for outfield spot

Saunders ready to compete for outfield spot

SEATTLE -- Michael Saunders has been largely a forgotten man in the Mariners' plans this offseason, but the athletic outfielder says he's ready to put last year in the past and come to camp prepared to battle for a job.

Saunders, 25, hit just .149 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 58 games in a season that got off to a bad start and then turned worse with the death of his mother, Jane, who lost a long battle to cancer in early August.

"This will be first year where I can focus solely on the game and not personal matters back home," Saunders said Thursday at the Mariners pre-Spring Training media luncheon. "That is something I'm really excited about. Everything I've been through and experienced has really driven me, knowing there's so much more to life than baseball. I'm really excited to concentrate solely on the game and that's what is driving me now."

The Victoria, B.C., native moved to Denver with his wife this offseason and hired a personal batting instructor for the first time, hooking up with Mike Bard, the older brother of former Mariners catcher Josh Bard. He said this is by far the most comfortable he's ever felt heading into a Spring Training.

"We've worked very hard at cleaning some things up," Saunders said. "Spring training is always a competition. The front office has done a great job producing a lot of young, competitive players moving forward in this organization. There are a lot of talented players for only nine positions on field. I think it'll be a great competition and everyone strives for that as athletes. Everyone is coming in excited and I know I am ready to lace up the spikes and go at it."