Is one half of the duo chosen to replace Delgado
With spring training just weeks away, we thought it would be a good time to introduce all the new faces the Jays organization will feature this year. We will give you a closer look at all the players the Jays acquired during this off-season, whether it was signing a player to a major league contract, trading for a player, claiming a player off waivers, or signing a player to a minor league contract.
Shea Hillenbrand : 1B/3B
Hillenbrand was perhaps the biggest off-season acquisition for Toronto, because they had to give up a player (Adam Peterson). When the Jays let Carlos Delgado walk, General Manager J.P. Ricciardi said he will need two bats to make up for the lost production, and Hillenbrand was one half of that plan. Hillenbrand’s best season was in 2003 when he hit 20 home runs and drove in 97 runs, however, he set a career high in batting average in 2004 by hitting .310. He also hit 15 home runs and drove in 80 RBI for the D-Backs in 2004. Hillenbrand is a very quiet but productive bat to have in your lineup, and we expect him to hit 17-19 home runs and drive in 85-90 runs, while batting in the .285-.300 range.
Corey Koskie : 3B
Koskie is the second half of the duo that was chosen to replace the productivity of Carlos Delgado, and was the prime offensive free agent target for Ricciardi. There is a major risk of acquiring Koskie, as he has been injury prone for much of his career, however, when healthy he clearly has shown the ability to handle the lumber. Koskie battled through mental frustrations in 2004, as he was never comfortable with his batting stance, until he looked back at tape from the 2001 season, and noticed his mistake. Koskie saw he held his hands higher than he did early in his career, and after making the switch he batted .280 and hit 11 home runs during his final 136 at bats of the season. When healthy, Koskie can be one of the best offensive third baseman in the league. He clearly has potential to hit 20 home runs, while driving in and scoring 100 runs, and stealing 20 plus bases per season. We project him as hitting 20 home runs, driving in 90 runs while hitting .275-.280.
Billy Koch : RHP
Koch was the first player that Ricciardi traded during his tenure as the clubs General Manager, however, did not hesitate to bring back the flamethrower as the Jays needed some help in the back end of the bullpen. It is not realistic to expect Koch to revert back to old form, as he has lost his blazing fastball, which he now throws in the 92-94 MPH range. Koch will have to prove in spring training that he deserves the closers role, and right now we don’t see him being much more than a middle reliever. If Koch can keep runners off base by keeping the ball in the strike zone we feel he will be a successful reliever, as we see his command and wildness as his biggest problem.
Scott Schoeneweis : LHP
Many Jays fans were confused when the signing of Schoeneweis was announced, and could not understand why he will be getting paid $1.75 million in 2005, after going 6-9 with a 5.59 ERA in 2004. However, when you examine Schoeneweis’ numbers closer, you would see he is not as bad as many think, as long as he is used correctly. During the past three seasons, Schoeneweis has held opposing left-hand hitters to a .222 batting average against, and his opponents batting average was .249 when he pitched out of the bullpen, as opposed to .283 as a starting pitcher. We feel Schoeneweis is overpaid to be a left-hand specialist, however, if he performs well out of the bullpen, nobody will question his contract.
John McDonald : INF
The Jays acquired McDonald in an off-season trade that sent minor leaguer Tom Mastny to the Indians in return for the utility player. McDonald will probably earn a back-up role for the Jays for 2005, however, we really did not see the reason this trade had to be made.
Chad Gaudin : RHP
Gaudin was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that sent catcher Kevin Cash to Tampa. We really like this move, as we feel Gaudin is a young right hander with lots of potential in his arm. The Jays have depth in the catching position, and anytime you could acquire a projectable arm, you must go ahead and pull the trigger. Gaudin could pitch as a starter and as a reliever, and we see him spending time with the major league club during the 2005 season.
Scott Downs : LHP
The Jays signed Downs to a minor league contract this past winter, and there really is no reason not to like this move. Downs could be considered one of those “AAAA” players, however, left hand pitchers are a luxury, and obtaining one for virtually nothing is a smart business decision. Downs will be making his way from Syracuse to Toronto in 2005, and will be available when called upon. He will be given a chance to win a spot out of spring training, however, his likely April destination will be Syracuse.
Seung Song : RHP
All major league waiver transactions are done via a network computer, and the Jays front office was quick to click the select button when they saw the Expos put this young reliever on the wire. Song, 24, has spent six minor league seasons with the Redsox and Expos organization pitching to a 41-24 record while posting a 3.19 ERA in 113 games, 108 of those being starts. We expect Song to be a decent major league pitcher if given the chance, and for a small waiver claim price, the Jays came out as winners here.
Matt Whiteside : RHP
The Jays signed the 37-year-old journeyman reliever for some depth in the bullpen for 2005. Whiteside has spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors playing for Texas, Philadelphia, San Diego and Atlanta. We don’t see Whiteside earning a spot out of spring training, and we expect him to pitch the majority of the time for Triple-A Syracuse.
Adrian Burnside : LHP
The Jays agreed to a minor league deal with Burnside this past winter, however, we don’t expect the 27-year-old to have a major impact for Toronto in 2005. Burnside has a career record in the minor leagues of 41-59, and should pencil himself for Syracuse.
Spike Lundberg : RHP
The Jays agreed to a minor league contract with the 27-year-old this past December, and we would like to see him get a look come 2005, if the Jays are searching for some quality arms. Even though he was in his mid 20’s, Lundberg pitched well in 2003 and 2004 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He has a career record of 65-51 with a 3.65 ERA in 862 minor league innings. We expect him to begin 2005 with Syracuse, however, if his performance bears a promotion, and the Jays are struggling with what they have in the pen, we see Lundberg as a potential candidate to help out.
Michael Nannini : RHP
The 24-year-old was a former first round draft choice by the Houston Astros in the 1998 Major League Baseball Draft, and was cruising through the minors until 2002 when he pitched at Double-A for the first time. In 2003, he repeated the Double-A level, although this time it was for Chicago, and performed much better. Once again, Nannini struggled when he pitched at Triple-A with Florida last season, however, being relatively young, we believe this was a solid pickup for this organization. Nannini will likely begin 2005 at AAA, and at age twenty-five he should not be considered a bust just yet. With that said, 2005 will clearly make or break Nannini, and in a low-risk, low-reward move, the Jays come out on top.
Jason Alfaro : INF
The Jays signed the 26-year-old infielder after be batted .325 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI for the New Orleans, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. Alfaro has proven he can hit in the minor leagues with his career .278 average, and now it is time to prove he belongs in a big league clubhouse.
You can write to Bobby at BVangelatos@aol.com