The youth kick was a departure from successful Suns teams. Usually, the Toronto organization follows a blueprint, sending a young team sprinkled with one or two veteran players to add stability while showing the new guys the ropes.
The formula always had regular ingredients: strong starting pitching, good defense up the middle in the form of a speedy centerfielder (who is usually the leadoff hitter), a highly drafted shortstop, a solid second baseman and a strong-armed catcher.
Add to it a left-handed hitting first baseman with some power, along with some heavy bats at third base and in at least one of the other outfield postions.
And finally, a flexible bullpen with at least one or two candidates to fill the role of closer.
All totaled, Toronto usually leaves the Suns with a competitive team that challenges for the South Atlantic League title.
The 2000 Suns fell well short in the sum total of the parts. Players were routinely platooned by manager Rolando Pino. There was no clearcut leadoff hitter, closer or power anywhere on the roster. The defense was inconsistent at best. And maybe the most telling was there weren't any players with leadership qualities.
A no-rhyme, no-reason season
The Suns seemed to wander aimlessly through the first half, finishing fifth with a 34-36 record in the seven-team Northern Division. The lack of success triggered an endless string of moves designed to make Hagerstown competitive in the second half. All this from an organization which believes to leave players at one location for an entire season to allow them to play everyday and develop.
It didn't work.
Early in the season, outfielder Reed Johnson was saddled as team leader, even though he was one of the more quiet players on the team. But he was Hagerstown's only everyday player. He led the team with 70 RBI when he was promoted to Dunedin, where he joined infielder Chris Weekly and pitchers Aaron Dean and Rob Hamann. Dean was Hagerstown's top starter with a 8-3 record and a 3.28 ERA.
Then shortstop Brandon Jackson, who was equally as quiet, unofficially became the team leader. He became one of the SAL's leading hitters in the role, using a 19-game hitting streak before he, too, got promoted in the last week of the season.
It was obvious, despite everything the Toronto organization tried, this year's Suns would never be winners. It became a case of getting every promising player out of town and into a situation where he could develop his skills.
From there, the Suns seemed like they were counting down the days to the end of the season by the time the second half started. At times, it looked as if the Suns should have been playing on Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty (Give me tired, your poor, your huddled masses....).
Three strikes and you're out
The Suns most disturbing aspects were:
1. The lack of enthusiasm from a team so young.
2. The lack of production coming from Toronto's top 1999 draft selections.
3. The inability to produce runs. In fact, the Blue Jays made a minor league trade with Milwaukee to get imposing 6-foot-4, 245-pound outfielder Alvin Morrow to add power to the team.
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Downfall one - The Suns had no emotional leader. Hagerstown drifted along, never winning or losing more than six straight games. With that demeanor and even-steven style of play, a .500 record would have been considered a successful year.
Hagerstown never came close to breaking even, finishing 29-38 in the second half and 63-74 overall.
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Downfall two - Toronto sent its top four draft picks to Hagerstown, three to start the season. But by the beginning of August, all four were gone - none by promotion.
Top pick Alex Rios joined the team right before the all-star break as a designated hitter while rehabilitating an arm injury he suffered in a fight. He hit only .230 for the Suns and was sent to Queens in the New York-Penn League where he could play outfield every day.