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Jays Alter Plans

June 3, 2003
By Larry Millson

Acquiring college pitching was the Blue Jays' priority heading into the draft, but they felt LSU shortstop Aaron Hill was too good to pass up, and they could address their pitching needs later in the draft.

"The guy we identified, (Mississippi State lefhander Paul) Maholm, was gone so we went with the best player available that we really, really liked," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "This kid's going to be a good player. He reminds us a little bit of (Craig) Biggio. He led the SEC in on-base percentage, was the SEC player of the year, he can hit, he can play the position. He's going to be a physical presence."

Through the College World Series regionals, Hill was batting a team-leading .367 with eight home runs and 59 runs batted in. The righthanded hitter also leads LSU with a .478 on-base percentage.

The Blue Jays also took a shortstop, Russ Adams, with their first-round pick last year (14th overall) from University of North Carolina and so far he has worked out well.

"He's stronger than Adams, a little bit more physical than Russ," said Ricciardi, who saw Hill play one game during the SEC tournament. "They are two really athletic kids up the middle that can hit. They fit our M.O. They're good on-base guys, they both command the strike zone and we think this guy (Hill) is going to have a little more power. He's played on the USA national team, hit real well there. Played with wooden bats. Had a good career through LSU."

Both Hill and Adams will continue playing shortstop. Hill would have to "play his way off the position" is the way Ricciardi put it. Many scouts have concerns about whether Hill has the range to stay at shortstop in the future.

"If some day they have to play together then one of them flips over (to second base)," Ricciardi said. "We wanted to take pitching but we didn't think there was any pitching that was better than this kid. So we didn't just want to take pitching for the sake of pitching. We think we can get pitching in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds that were just as good as what was there in the first round for us. We thought this kid was one of the top five or six every day players in the draft. He's a gap guy right now that's probably going to come into more power down the road. But just a real good idea of the strike zone.

"It just gives us two athletic guys that are going to be offensive players that fit into our offensive philosophy up the middle."

The Blue Jays were strongly considering taking Houston righthander Brad Sullivan, but his struggles in front of the Blue Jays brass (where he topped out at 85 mph) ultimately convinced them to look a different direction.

The Blue Jays second-round pick (50th overall) was Florida International righthander Josh Banks, 20, who throws 90-94 with a hard slider and splitter.

Their next selection (80th overall) was Southwest Missouri State righthander Shaun Marcum, 22, who throws a slider and curve to go with his fastball.

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