FACT OR FICTION:
Aaron Hill’s future lies at Shortstop with the Toronto Blue Jays.
I hope you all enjoyed last week’s Amateur Draft special regarding Ricky Romero, because this week at InsideTheDome we’re turning up the heat and locking in on a Toronto rookie that has been lighting it up in recent weeks after being called up from Triple-A Syracuse – Aaron Hill!
For those of you that don’t know much about Aaron Hill, you’ll find out real quick. The 23yr. old product out of Visalia, California, was drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2003 Amateur Draft out of Louisiana State University. It was the second year in a row where the Blue Jays had taken a shortstop, with Russ Adams being selected the year before. Now both men are in the big leagues and questions are starting to arise – Who’s at short?
Thankfully for now, that question doesn’t need to be answered immediately with third baseman Corey Koskie on the disabled list recovering from ligament damage in his fractured right thumb. Koskie suffered the injury in a game against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, attempting to stretch a single into a double, sliding head first into second base. He’s due back around the All-Star break which is the first week in July. So the Toronto brass does have some time to figure out what to due when Koskie does come back, but that’s no fun, so we’re going to look at their options right now!
Option A: A player of Koskie’s caliber shouldn’t lose his position due to an injury, so the first option would be to have Koskie back at third, keep a platoon of Adams and John McDonald at shortstop, while Hinske and Hillenbrand play at first base and designated hitter respectively, with Hill getting the occasional spot start at 3B, SS or DH.
Option B: With Shea Hillenbrand’s contract up at the end of the season, the Blue Jays may be tempted to make room for Hill by trading Shea at the trading deadline (July 31st). That would allow Koskie to ease himself back into the lineup as the DH, Hill could play 3B, with a platoon of Adams/McDonald at shortstop.
Option C: Option Hill back down to Syracuse until rosters expand from 25 to 40 on September 1st.
Now, I’m not a fan of “Option C” and I’ll tell you why. Aaron Hill is arguably Toronto’s best hitter right now and he hasn’t appeared phased at all by playing in the big leagues, and that is a testament of his maturity as a ballplayer. Hill has seventeen RBI in twenty-two games so far, which is more than half of Vernon Wells team leading thirty-two. Aaron also has the uncanny ability to draw his hands in to get around on any inside pitch, a valuable quality in any budding superstar. Have I mentioned he’s batting .338?
With the uncertainty of being able to predict trades, the option with the highest percent of probability would be “Option A”. But if that happens, who do you send down to make room for Koskie? Perhaps Scott Downs? That’s a possibility, but the Blue Jays have proved that an extra lefty in the bullpen can do wonders when your only option before was to bring in Scott Schoeneweis. So do you decide to keep twelve pitchers or do you say goodbye to someone like Frank Menechino? I think the Blue Jays management has a lot of respect for Menechino, coupled with the fact that Orlando Hudson has been struggling this year, posing as the charismatic second basemen’s back-up. So if this were the option they chose, we might be saying goodbye to Downs after all.
But I like to live on the wild side and take chances. I really do believe that the Jays have no intention of resigning Hillenbrand this off-season and they would be wise to unload him when the opportunity presents itself. Hillenbrand is having a good year, right along his career average and has been one of Toronto’s more reliable hitters early in the season. He has also proved to be somewhat of a leader in the clubhouse, and is admired for the way he goes about his craft in a professional manner – a stark contrast to the rumored fallout between he and Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein after he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A trade of Hillenbrand serves a multitude of good for the club. First off, they would receive at worst a ‘Type B’ prospect or bullpen arm. Secondly, it would find playing time for Hill, Koskie and Adams. And lastly, they would be dropping almost four million in salary, depending on whether they receive a decent sized contract in return or not, allowing the team to take a run at some other players at the trading deadline or to help them target free agents in the off-season. So ‘Option B’ would be my choice.
Now back to why we’re really here…to find out if Aaron Hill is the Jays shortstop of the immediate future or not. Hill, on Sunday, played his first game at shortstop for the Blue Jays, and looked alright, but before you go making any bets on this, don’t look at this happening with 100% certainty. Manager John Gibbons stated that they needed to find a way to get Hill’s hot bat in the lineup. There’s also the reasoning that I believe general manager J.P. Ricciardi hasn’t decided on the outcome of Russ Adams yet. He has in fact only played a mere seventy-one games at the big league level – hardly a proper timeframe to estimate a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ verdict.
If the Jays are thinking along the same lines of this writer, they would seriously consider putting Corey Koskie in the DH slot in hopes of reducing his injury risk, and placing Hill at third for the time being – at least for another season. Hill has looked extremely comfortable at the hot corner in his eleven games there thus far, committing only two errors. He’s shown to have good range and a very strong arm from across the diamond, and if he continues to swing the bat, it would just be one less spot the Jays would need to shop for in the off-season, allowing them to pursue a power-hitting first basemen like Carlos Lee.
So after a long debate, the verdict is in, Aaron Hill would best be suited at third base as a Blue Jay making the statement above – FICTION!
Tune in next week as we take a look at Syracuse outfielder and former first round draft pick Gabe Gross!
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