Shortstop Chris Woodward
While the opening day infield will likely be the same as it was last season, we will see changes here. The Jays hope it comes in the form of improved performance, especially on defense. If that doesn’t happen, there could be some players themselves changed before the season is done.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season last year was veteran catcher Greg Myers. The 39 year old veteran hit .307 in 121 games for the Jays, and he signed a one-year deal this off season. He will share time this season with Kevin Cash. Cash is a defensive specialist, but he hit an abysmal .142. That’s simply not acceptable, especially with questions surrounding Myers and his age. Given how well above his career averages he performed, it is unlikely he can repeat last year’s brilliance.
Chris Gomez (Minnesota)
Mike Bordick (Retired)
Tom Wilson (San Diego)
At the hot corner is 2002’s Rookie of the Year, Eric Hinske. In a disappointing second major league season, riddled with injuries, Hinske still managed to drive in 63 runs and hit 45 doubles (second only to Vernon Wells’ 49) in just 449 at bats. Hinske’s defense, however, was downright terrible. He made 22 errors and had a lackluster fielding percentage of .930. He’ll need to improve on his work in the field to realize his full value to the club.
In 2003, the Jays were strong at shortstop mainly due to the surprise season had by veteran Mike Bordick. Sadly, Bordick decided to hang up the cleats this winter, and won’t return. He was replaced by Chris Gomez. This leaves the Jays with Chris Woodward as their starter-by-default. This position is easily the Jays biggest weak spot of the infield. They pursued Rich Aurilia’s services in the off season, but the price tag was simply too high. Woodward hit .261, and has some pop in his bat (he drove in 45 runs in just 349 at bats), but the problem does not lie with his offense. The defense was horrendous last year. Woodward committed 13 errors last year, in only 79 games. This must improve for the Jays to be successful in 2004.
Perhaps the most promising player in the Jays infield this year is Orlando Hudson. The “O-Dog” as fans affectionately know him as is a flashy defender with a lovable personality. He is the most exciting second bagger to play for the Jays since Roberto Alomar. He makes acrobatic plays in the field. And he is a switch hitter, though given his poor numbers from the right side, some feel he should give this up. Many teams have expressed interest in Hudson, but the Jays feel they have something going with him – and rightly so. Hudson hit a solid .268, drove in 57 runs, and hit 6 triples. He is the speedster on the team, and is a player to keep an eye on this season.
And first base brings us to Carlos Delgado. Not enough good can be said of Carlos. Last year’s AL MVP candidate, Delgado could do no wrong. His numbers are downright staggering. He hit .302, slugged .593, drove in 145, and was walked an unbelievable 109 times. And don’t forget he hit 42 home runs, too. As he enters his last contract year with the Blue Jays, expect much of the same from Delgado. He should be a MVP candidate again this year, and anything less will be a disappointment.
2003’s Worst: In what was a surprisingly strong infield, it’s easy to give out this dubious honour. Kevin Cash’s .142 average is hard to overlook. It’s never a good situation when fans in the stadium honestly feel they could try out for the team based on a player’s hitting. Obviously it wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t far off. He’ll need to show a decent bat quickly if he wants to stay in the Major Leagues.
Opening Day Infield:
1B – Carlos Delgado
2B – Orlando Hudson
3B – Eric Hinske
SS – Chris Woodward
C – Greg Myers
Bench – Chris Gomez
Bench – Dave Berg
Bench – Howie Clark
Bench – Kevin Cash
Comments: The Jays infield could be one of their strong points, but there’s a few things holding them back. Their defense last year was absolutely horrendous, and there’s not much reason to believe it will be any better this year. One of Woodward or Gomez needs to step it up a notch this year, or shortstop will be very weak, and Hinske is coming off a bad season. If all goes well for the Jays in the infield, it will be a very strong unit. But there are a lot of questions to be answered.