As Spring Training is just starting up, we continue to count down the list of Top 100 Blue Jays in franchise history. In the previous instalments so far, I have looked at players ranked 56-100 and we’ll continue with the next five today. This is my opinion based off of career stats with the club and accomplishments.
(Top Players 51-55)
55. Ricky Romero (2009-2013)
Ricky Romero was one of the highest draft picks the Blue Jays ever made when they selected him sixth overall in the 2005 MLB Draft. He progressed each season through the minor leagues as he would stop at two levels every year all the way up until he made his major league debut in 2009.
Romero looked very impressive in his first game and followed it up with two more in April that first season. After his first three games he had posted a 2-0 record and a 1.71 ERA, unfortunately it was halted due to a strained oblique and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Shortly after returning, Romero went through an eight game stretch of pitching into the seventh inning each time. He would finish his rookie season with a 13-9 record with a 4.30 ERA and had the makings of a front of the rotation starter.
Over the next two seasons, Romero progressed not only into a front of the rotation pitcher, but became an All-Star in 2011 and finished that season with 15 wins, a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Through his first three seasons, Romero had posted a 42-29 record and a 3.60 ERA. He was not just putting up good numbers, he was showing he could eat innings, as he pitched over 200 innings in two consecutive seasons, including 225 in 2011. Romero would sign a four-year extension for $27.5 million dollars that looked like it was going to be a steal for the club. Unfortunately, something happened to Romero that has happened to a couple other All-Star players over the history of the game. Romero couldn’t throw strikes anymore, and his body started to fail him, especially with chronic knee issues that pushed him out of the major leagues just two seasons later. Romero tried to battle back through the minor leagues with both Toronto and San Francisco, but couldn’t make it work.
Romero is often remembered for the ending of his career and many forget how good of a pitcher he was to start with. Romero finished his Blue Jays and Major League career with 51 wins over 127 starts.
54. Jason Frasor (2004-2011, 2012)
Many younger Blue Jays fans, may say “who?” when you tell them Jason Frasor was one of the top pitchers the Blue Jays had in their franchise history, especially when you talk about bullpen arms. Frasor is the only pitcher in club history to pitch in over 500 games, and is the leader in games pitched by 53 games.
Toronto acquired Frasor for a Blue Jays prospect who was struggling to be a full-time major leaguer in Jayson Werth. Werth would become an All-Star and receive votes for NL MVP on four occasions over his career, while Frasor, as stated above would become the franchise leader in games pitched in. In his rookie season, the club used Frasor as the primary closer as he saved 17 games over 63 appearances. For the duration of his career he was mainly used as a setup man or middle rotation and his best season was 2009 when he collected seven wins in relief to go with 11 saves and a 2.50 ERA, with a 1.02 WHIP.
Frasor finished his Blue Jays career pitching in 505 games, posting a 3.73 ERA and picking up 36 saves. He would be traded at the 2011 trade deadline for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen, however the club would re-acquire him the following winter to pitch in one more season with the team before he moved on.
53. Jose Cruz (1997-2002)
There have been very few times during the history of the team that I remember the club acquiring a top-end, blue chip prospect, but that was the case at the 1997 trade deadline. During that season, the Seattle Mariners were battling for first place and had an unbelievable offence, but desperately needed help in the bullpen. With the Blue Jays struggling, they traded veterans Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin for 23-year old Jose Cruz Jr. Cruz was a former third overall pick just two years prior and had already climbed to the major leagues and looked like a five-tool player. In fact, in that 1997 season split between AAA, Seattle and Toronto he hit 32 home runs and 98 RBI over 154 games.
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While Cruz never did pan out to be the superstar a lot of analysts thought he would become, he did become a pretty good major leaguer that hit 30+ home runs twice for the Blue Jays and was even a 30-30 player in 2001. That season, Cruz hit 38 doubles, 34 home runs with a .274 batting average while swiping 32 stolen bases on just 37 attempts. Cruz would leave in free agency after the 2002 season and bounced around the league for the remainder of his career. Cruz currently sits 12th on the list for Blue Jays in both home runs (122) and stolen bases (85).
52. Orlando Hudson (2002-2005)
The Blue Jays have not had a second basemen as good defensively as Orlando Hudson on the roster since he departed 16 years ago. Hudson, who was also known as “O-Dog” was a treat to watch on the field as well in interviews, as he always had a very happy attitude which made him an easy fan favourite. Toronto drafted Hudson in consecutive years and the second being in the 43rd round of the 1997 draft. Through his minor league career, Hudson showed he was an incredible defensive player that had a really good bat.
He played his first major league game as a 24-year old mid-season in 2002 and got into 54 games finishing the season finishing with a slash line of .276/.319/.443. Over his next three seasons he hit would hit 30 extra base hits each year while posting a slash line of .270/.328/.418 in that time. It seemed every season with the team he was getting better and better, which was capped off by a Gold Glove Award in 2005. After that season, the club had another second basemen on the rise (Aaron Hill) and a need at third base. They sent Hudson to Arizona in a deal for Troy Glaus.
51. Luis Leal (1980-1985)
Signed by Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 1979 season, Luis Leal did not take long to climb the ranks to the big leagues. Luis Leal played just one and a half seasons in the minors collecting a 19-7 record before debuting May 25, 1980. The next season Leal would crack the starting rotation where he would remain for the duration of his career. Leal would go through a stretch of three seasons winning at least 12 games and pitching more than 217 innings in each of those three seasons.
In 1985, his numbers had taken a turn for the worse and he found himself in AAA Syracuse for the next couple seasons. The Blue Jays moved on from him and traded him to the Atlanta Braves. At the end of his Blue Jays career he sat third in wins with 51, which he now currently sits 11th on the list.
In the next segment we get into the Top 50 Players, including a Superhero.