3 Toronto Blue Jays Once they've endured their growing pains, the New Jays should improve with age

March 25, 2002

When the Blue Jays cut Roy Halladay from their major league camp
last spring, the move was so drastic that they summoned a
counselor from their employee assistance program to help break
the news to him. Halladay, who had been hailed as an
ace-in-the-making, was not simply demoted. He was dumped all the
way to Class A. "That wasn't even the worst part," he says. "The
worst was walking back into the locker room to face my teammates
and talking about what was going on. I wished I was invisible."

Halladay quickly discovered how far from the big leagues
Dunedin, Fla., is. "The postgame spread," he says, "was
peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches."

A year later the 24-year-old righthander is a completely
overhauled pitcher with the sheen back on his future, and the
Blue Jays have adopted the same rehabilitation program for
themselves: Take a giant step back to take a leap forward. Under
new general manager J.P. Ricciardi, the former Oakland
player-evaluation guru, Toronto has launched a modified youth
movement. "We need to change the perception of the Blue Jays,"
Ricciardi says. "The perception that's out there is that they
are an underachieving team that doesn't play hard all the time,
that doesn't know how to grind it out."

You want grinders? How about the humbled Halladay, who had a
10.64 ERA with Toronto in 2000. Organizational pitching coach
Mel Queen changed Halladay's delivery so that he threw with a
three-quarters arm angle rather than straight overhand.
Halladay's once dead-straight heaters began sinking and cutting.
Halladay also ditched his negative mind-set. The reengineering
worked. He went 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA in 16 late-season starts for
the Blue Jays.

The efficiency of Toronto's overall rebuilding depends mostly on
how quickly its young position players develop. Catchers Kevin
Cash, Josh Phelps and Jayson Werth, second baseman Orlando
Hudson and outfielder Gabe Gross figure to make the club
stronger in 2003, if not this year. The first wave of the New
Jays is led by a green left side of the infield: shortstop
Felipe Lopez and third baseman Eric Hinske. "We did it in
Oakland with [Miguel] Tejada and [Eric] Chavez, and Tejada made
26 errors [in 104 games]," Ricciardi says. "There were days you
wanted to jump off the third balcony. But you have to live and
die with young guys."

Lopez, 21, signed as the eighth pick of the 1998 draft just days
before his father, Felipe Sr., pleaded no contest to two charges
of child abuse and one count of aggravated assault. In a police
report at the time Lopez told authorities his father beat him
for mistakes on the baseball field. Felipe Sr. was sentenced to
20 years in prison. While manager Buck Martinez says Lopez "has
big power," Lopez says his only goals are "to hit .300 and steal
bases. I want to hit for average before I worry about power."

The 225-pound Hinske, 24, is another budding slugger. Unlike the
free-swinging Lopez, however, Hinske has a discerning batting
eye. While in Oakland, Ricciardi took him in a trade with the
Cubs sight unseen--he simply liked his power and on-base
percentage numbers. Hinske was the first player Ricciardi
acquired in Toronto.

Only the Royals drew fewer walks last year than the Jays. Fixing
that and resisting the temptation to rush young players rank
high on Ricciardi's to-do list. "In the past here," Ricciardi
says, "if somebody had a good week in Double A they jumped to
the big leagues, only to go back again because they weren't
ready. There was no continuity."

Under Ricciardi no Blue Jay should have to go back to PB&J. --T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE MOORE As Oakland did with Tejada, Toronto will give the 21-year-old Lopez ample time to prove himself, hoping to achieve similar results. COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES HINSKE

IN FACT
With 34 homers and 32 steals, Jose Cruz Jr. became just the
eighth AL 30-30 man and the first since 1998.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Blue Jays

"Toronto is taking a hell of a chance by playing Felipe Lopez
every day at shortstop. He has good hands, a strong arm and a
good first step, but I don't know if he's ready to play every
day for a contender.... Eric Hinske looks like he has good
upside, but he's another guy who's unproven. I really like his
bat. He looks like he can hit the ball out to all fields and has
a good idea of the strike zone.... Homer Bush is a problem at
second base because he breaks down every year.... They do have
Carlos Delgado at first, but they're not going anywhere with
that infield.... I like their outfield a lot. I like Shannon
Stewart, who's a good hitter, and I like Raul Mondesi, but not
his contract [$24 million over the next two years]. He should
steal 30 bases, hit 40 home runs and bat .270, but he's not very
disciplined at the plate. Vernon Wells has a chance to be a hell
of a player; he'd be my centerfielder right now--and I like Jose
Cruz Jr. One of those guys will be traded, probably either
Mondesi or Stewart.... Toronto has a problem behind the plate
because Darrin Fletcher is not able to catch every day and he
still doesn't throw well.... Their pitching is going to be a
trouble spot. But I like Chris Carpenter. He has the bite back
on his curveball.... Kelvim Escobar seems to have the stuff to
be a closer, but you don't know about his stomach for the
job.... They have three lefties in the bullpen--Pedro Borbon,
Dan Plesac and Felix Heredia--and probably will trade one of
them."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

LF Shannon Stewart R 79 .316 12 60 27
3B Eric Hinske (R)*[1]L-R 192 .282 25 79 20
RF Raul Mondesi R 61 .252 27 84 30
1B Carlos Delgado L-R 29 .279 39 102 3
CF Jose Cruz Jr. S-R 47 .274 34 88 32
DH Vernon Wells R 118 .313 1 6 5
C Darrin Fletcher L-R 239 .226 11 56 0
SS Felipe Lopez S-R 153 .260 5 23 4
2B Homer Bush R 232 .306 3 27 13

BENCH

IF Dave Berg[1] R 330 .242 4 16 0
OF Chris Latham S-R 353 .274 2 10 4

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Roy Halladay 49 5 3 6.4 1.16 3.16
RH Chris Carpenter 82 11 11 6.3 1.41 4.09
RH Luke Prokopec[1] 160 8 7 5.9 1.34 4.88
RH Brandon Lyon 191 5 4 5.7 1.24 4.29
LH Scott Eyre 216 1 2 -- 1.40 3.45

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Kelvim Escobar 57 6 8 0 1.15 3.50
LH Dan Plesac 227 4 5 1 1.28 3.57
RH Bob File 235 5 3 0 1.16 3.27

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player
Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats

Manager
Buck Martinez
second season with Toronto

2001 record
80-82
third in AL East

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Mondesi

Good Leather

Stewart
Cruz
Bush
Lopez
Hinske
Halladay
Fletcher

Iron Hands

Delgado

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)