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Roy Halladay: Before He Was A Hall Of Famer

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Roy Halladay (Photo by Tom DiPace)

The Blue Jays drafted Halladay 17th overall in 1995 out of high school in suburban Denver. He debuted that year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he ranked as the No. 5 prospect. He jumped to high Class A Dunedin in 1996 and ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Florida State League.

Toronto invited a teenage Halladay to big league camp in 1997, and Blue Jays correspondent Larry Millson documented it in the pages of BA.

Roy Halladay, at age 19, sure didn’t look out of place in Blue Jays major league spring training camp.

The righthander pitched seven innings over three appearances, had an ERA of 1.29, struck out seven and walked only one.

The 1995 first-round pick was invited to the big league camp for the experience, and was returned to minor league camp in mid-March. But in between, Halladay made a good impression.

“He’s got good stuff,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “He hasn’t turned 20 yet and he has so much poise. He’s going to pitch in the major leagues soon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up here before the end of the season.”

Halladay, who went 15-7, 2.73 last season for high Class A Dunedin, found it educational to be in major league camp. He could observe the major league pitchers, including Cy Young Award winners Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen.

“This is a different world over here,” Halladay said. “You can pick up so many little things from watching them.”

Watching him pitch, it’s hard to believe Halladay, who is 6-foot-6, has been out of high school barely two years. He graduated from Arvada (Colo.) West High in 1995. After signing, he went to the Gulf Coast League and went 3-5, 3.40 in 10 games, eight of them starts.

Last season, he skipped short-season St. Catharines and low Class A Hagerstown to make 27 starts for Dunedin.   

Gaston's prognostication wasn't off by much. Halladay began 1997 at Double-A and advanced to Triple-A after just seven starts. He made his big league debut as a September callup in 1998 after two seasons in the International League at ages 20 and 21.

During his 1998 callup, Halladay recorded a 1.93 ERA and 0.79 WHIP while striking out 13 in 14 innings over two September starts. His outlook for 1999 appeared bright, and he ranked as the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect for the third straight season. Tracy Ringolsby had the scouting report.

Background: Blue Jays scout Bus Campbell worked extensively with Halladay during his amateur days in Colorado, creating a relationship that resulted in Halladay using part of his signing bonus to buy Campbell a satellite television system. That was in 1995; now fast forward to 1998. After starting his second season with Triple-A Syracuse, Halladay was sidelined for a month with a right shoulder strain. He returned to one-hit Charlotte on July 20 and spent the rest of the season at Syracuse, then opened a few eyes by becoming the third-youngest starter in Blue Jays history. His second start turned into a no-hit bid against the Tigers on the season’s final day. The bid ended with a two-out, pinch-hit homer by Bobby Higginson. Halladay continued to prove his value with a strong effort in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Halladay has a prototype pitcher’s body. He’s tall, lanky and flexible—and has plenty of stamina. He finished third in the Colorado state cross country finals as a senior at Arvada West High. Halladay puts minimal strain on his arm. His fastball is solidly in the mid-90s, and he has the endurance to maintain his velocity into the late innings. He has developed more downward movement on his fastball, which allows him to get more ground balls. The Blue Jays initially took away the knuckle-curve that Campbell taught him in high school, but in the middle of this season allowed him to start throwing it again. It was the pitch he used for five of his eight strikeouts in the one-hitter against Detroit. He has developed a hard-biting slider that may be his best pitch.

Weaknesses: Halladay just needs a little refinement to be a legitimate big league, front-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has a tendency to open up and show the hitter his arm a little too soon. And he needs to throw his changeup more often.

The Future: After nearly two full seasons in Triple-A, Halladay’s future is now. With the Blue Jays moving toward youth, Halladay figures to join fellow righthanders Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar in the major league rotation on Opening Day.

While Halladay stumbled out of the gate in Toronto by running up a 6.01 ERA through his first two seasons, he completely remade himself during a minor league demotion in 2001 that took him all the way down to the Florida State League. He emerged later that season as a big league ace.

From 2001 through 2011, Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball. He accumulated 65.5 wins above replacement in those 11 seasons, ranking him first by a mile against direct contemporaries Roy Oswalt (51.2 WAR), Johan Santana (50.7) and CC Sabathia (49.9).

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