New faces give hope in Toronto
By Jeff Blair
"Weve just come together a lot more this year," said Wells, the 23-year-old center fielder who became the youngest Jays player with 100 RBIs in a season. "When I came up here in the past, it just seemed like guys were all over the place. They werent talking to each other. Thats not the case now. Instead, were exchanging phone numbers and talking about keeping in touch with each other during the offseason."
Eric Hinskes wire-to-wire pursuit of the American Leagues rookie of the year award was the most obvious indication of the new tone set by general manager J.P. Ricciardi. But he was hardly the only young player to make an impact on a team that had the best record after the all-star game of any non-playoff AL team. Most other players who contributed were drafted and developed during the reign of Ricciar-dis predecessor, Gord Ashan interesting development in light of the wide-ranging changes Ricciardi has enacted throughout the organization, as well as the level of public criticism directed toward the Ash regime.
Wells, whose clubhouse status made him the teams player representative, and Roy Halladay, the teams all-star representative, will be the emotional core of the Blue Jays future. Manager Carlos Tosca already calls Halladaywho was 19-7, 2.93"our franchise player." But in both cases, their success in 2002 was largely predictable. Not even the most avid Blue Jays fan could have expected the success of some of the other newcomers, in particular Josh Phelps, Orlando Hudson and Justin Miller.
Promoted after Ricciardi foisted Raul Mondesis contract on the Yankees, Phelps became the everyday DH and won AL rookie of the month awards in August and September. Hell likely see more time as a catcher next spring. Hudson was sent down early in spring training after a slow start and came close to being traded at the trade deadline. But he shone offensively and defensively after his callup, and emerged from Triple-A Syracuse sounding and looking more reserved without losing any of his exuberance for the game. Despite first-inning woes that saw him give up 19 runs and 23 walks in the first innings of his 18 starts, Miller is expected to challenge for a starting spot next spring.
Ricciardi was hired to shake the organization out of a strange kind of mid-market stupor that at times seemed to leave the team without direction. He did that, paring a payroll that would have been in the mid-$80 million range to $64 million.
"This organization has always been known for having good players," Tosca said. "Thats looking from the outside in, having managed against this organization. The thing, I guess, that surprised me the most was the fact that they were able to come up here and perform the way they did as quickly as they did."
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