The CCO has learned directly from Tim Saunders that he will be reporting to Spring Training this year with the hopes of resuming his career. There had been some doubt as to whether Saunders would return after injuries cut short his past two seasons.
Saunders was selected by the Cubs in the 32nd round of the 2012 draft as a shortstop out of Marietta College in Ohio. Saunders was an immediate hit after being assigned to the Arizona Rookie League, batting .493 with three home runs, 17 RBI, and five stolen bases in 17 games for the AZL Cubs before being promoted to High-A Daytona to replace an injured Arismendy Alcantara.
Saunders hit .310 with four RBI and four stolen bases in 12 games for the D-Cubs before being “flipped” with infielder Javier Baez, and was assigned to Low-A Peoria. Saunders finished out the year with Chiefs hitting .321 with two homers, 12 RBI, and eight stolen bases in 20 games. All total, Saunders had a .381/.431/.536/.967 line with 13 doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 17 stolen bases. For that, Saunders was named The CCO Short Season Player of the Year.
In Spring Training of 2013, it was reported that during drills Saunders was the fastest player in the entire organization. The news came as a surprise to some as the camp included players known for their speed, such as Junior Lake and Matt Szczur. Of particular note is that Szczur, a 2010 fifth round selection, was a former college wide receiver with NFL class speed.
Saunders was assigned to High-A Daytona to begin the 2013 season, but had to move off of shortstop to accommodate Baez. Saunders began the season at third base, but moved to centerfield where he suffered a hip pointer. The injury contributed to a slow start, and when he returned, Saunders played primarily second base. Saunders then went on an offensive tear in June, batting .307 with a home run, 15 RBI, and six stolen bases while still rotating through second base, shortstop, third base, and outfield.
During batting practice on July 4, Saunders came up with an elbow injury. It was a tear of his ulterior cruciate ligament which required Tommy John Surgery, ending his season. For the year, Saunders batted .226/.316/.321/.637 with three home runs, 27 RBI, and 21 stolen bases in 62 games.
For the 2014 season, Saunders attempted a comeback and broke camp once again with Daytona. His April was promising, as he hit .253 with a home run, 11 RBI, and eight stolen base in 21 games. But Saunders began to experience some problems and played in only 15 more games for the D-Cubs before being sent to Low-A Kane County. After appearing in one game for the Cougars, Saunders was sent to Extended Spring Training for rest and rehabilitation. Saunders was on the initial roster for Short Season-A Boise, but never appeared in a game as he was shut down for the remainder of 2014. Saunders’ totals for the year were .210/.261/.347/.608 with two home runs, 15 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 36 games.
Should Saunders be fully recovered from his surgery, he would provide an interesting piece of the puzzle for the Cubs minor league system in 2015. Saunders is considered a leadoff or number two hitter, not only because of his blazing speed, but for his hitting ability and on-base percentage. Saunders also has more power than typically associated with a “speed” player. Depending upon his recovery, Saunders can be very versatile in the field, a quality coveted by new manager Joe Maddon. With no clear-cut candidates at shortstop for either Double-A Tennessee or High-A Myrtle Beach, Saunders could possibly make a claim for either spot with a solid spring. Among the players that could be affected if Saunders returns to form are Wes Darvill, Elliot Soto, Danny Lockhart, Carlos Penalver, Chesny Young, Andrew Ely, Bryant Flete, Jason Vosler, and Gleyber Torres.