At 26, South Jersey product Darren Ford may be embarking on his most important baseball season of his career.  As the 2012 season opens, Ford will start his season in Tacoma - close to the Seattle Mariners in distance, but what may see far away as far as his major league dreams, yet his chances are good for a shot in the majors if he delivers.

When Ford signed a minor league contract on the off season with Seattle, it seemed to give the Vineland High School product his best chance at a path toward a Major League job.  Ford was last seen in the exhibition season going 4-8 against Major League talent (.500 batting avg. with a Triple, 2 Runs Batted In, and 2 stolen bases), while splitting time playing against minor league talent.  His speed is his strength, and the M's are lacking a true threat who could steal bases, so a reserve role seemed possible.

The Mariners opted to have Ford start with the Tacoma Rainiers (team co-owned by 98 Degrees star Nick Lachay) to give him a chance to play everyday - a safe play but also an odd move by a team that is only carrying 3 outfielders on their roster.

Chone Figgins is being called upon to be the team's man in left field for now.  Figgins is capable of playing almost anywhere in the field, but this may be a potential problem considering 2 of their projected starters in the outfield are out with injuries, plus he is coming off his worst season of his career in 2011 (.188 Batting Average on 288 at-bats).

Michael Saunders is also in the outfield starting line-up for now, and his career Major League numbers are not great (.196 BA in about 600 career at-bats for the M's)

Franklin Gutierrez is the question here as he is recovering from an injury.  The man in center is expected to miss at least the 1st month of the season.  Known for defense, Gutierrez's days could be numbered due to his lack of offense (.256 career BA, but only .237 over the last 2 seasons for Seattle) and high salary (due $5.5 Million this season, and $7.5 Million in 2013).

Here is where Darren Ford can be a factor at some point this season:

His speed is his calling card - world class ability as he has ran a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.  Ford can utilize this for a team that lack base stealing ability right now (only Ichiro Suzuki stole more that 15 bases on the M's in 2011).  Nicknamed "The Bullet" for his foot speed, Ford has averaged 44 stolen bases a season in his 7 minor league seasons (306 during this stretch - successful 80% of the time).

Ford's defense in center has improved over the last year, and that helped him earn a call-up for the San Francisco Giants late last season.  Ford went 4-14 (.286 BA) in 26 games with 9 stolen bases.

Ford has only seen 18 games of action at the highest minor league level (AAA), so a bit more seasoning will help his talent.  Ford needs to improve upon his career BA in the minors (.267) and improve his on-base average (.350)  to show Seattle he's ready to be the lead-off hitter for the team.

Friends and family in South Jersey should feel good about Darren Ford's chances to be on the Mariners sooner than later - he has the ability to be a stolen base champion and a solid major league player, but now it comes down to potentially his most important season of his professional career.  Visit us here to see periodical updates on Ford's progress in 2012.