Jays star left big impression

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Two coaches who accompanied the Major League Baseball all-star teams to Japan expect big things this year from Blue Jays centre-fielder Vernon Wells.

"He was our best player in Japan and we had some talent," one National League coach said.

"I can see this guy being an all-star for years to come, as long as he stays healthy," said another.

Wells appeared in 134 games in 2004 with 23 homers and 67 runs batted in. In Japan, Wells hit .407 (11-for-27) with two doubles, the two homers, seven RBIs and scored seven runs.

MAIS OUI

Catcher Russ Martin of Montreal hit 15 home runs at single-A Vero Beach in the Los Angeles Dodgers system in '04. Now, he will open at double-A Jacksonville with an eye being a September callup.

A converted infielder, Martin hit .250 with 64 RBIs last season. He doesn't have a Mike Piazza or a Paul Lo Duca behind the plate with the Dodgers, who are going with redoubtables David Ross and Paul Bako.

"I can see Eric Gagne on the mound, me catching and going out to talk to him," Martin said. "We can talk French and won't even have to put our gloves in front of our faces -- no one will know what we're saying.

"As long as Pierre-Luc Laforest is not the hitter."

Laforest, of Gatineau, Que., is battling Kevin Cash for the backup catching job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

A Gagne-Martin major-league battery would be a first for Quebec which has sent 22 players to the bigs, but only two catchers: Gene Vadeboncoeur, of Louiseville, with the 1884 Philadelphia Quakers, and Laforest.

SILLY TALK

One of the strangest ones we've heard this spring goes like this: "Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske will be better without Carlos Delgado."

Who played first when Halladay won the Cy Young Award in 2003? Delgado.

Who played first when Wells hit 33 homers and knocked in 117 runs in 2003? Delgado.

Who played first when Hinske won the American League rookie of the year in 2002? Delgado.

LOW BALL

The Pittsburgh Pirates didn't improve relations with their best players by renewing the contracts of lefty Oliver Perez, who fanned 239 in 2004, and left fielder Jason Bay, of Trail, B.C., the first Canadian and first Pirate to be named National League rookie of the year in 2004.

General manager Dave Littlefield gave Perez $381,000 US and Bay $355,000 in one-year deals.

Bay made $305,000 in 2004, hitting .282 with 26 homers and 82 RBIs in 120 games.

The St. Louis Cardinals gave Albert Pujols a $600,000 contact in 2002 after he won NL rookie of the year the previous season.

The San Diego Padres will give NL ERA champion Jake Peavy, a four-year, $15-million contract.

SECOND TRY

After withdrawing from the World Cup qualifier in Colombia because of kidnap threats, Team Canada, managed by Mississauga's Remo Cardinale, will be in Bradenton, Fla., next month for a second-chance qualifier against the U.S. and Czech Republic.

Italy was scheduled to compete but withdrew.

The double round-robin competition takes place at McKechnie Field. The USA and Canadian teams are made up of players from independent league teams.

The top two countries qualify for the 36th World Cup at The Netherlands in October.

MAKING MOVES

Former Jays No. 1 pick Matt Stark has been hired to scout Mexico for the Seattle Mariners. Peter Bourjos, a Scottsdale, Ariz., high school centre- fielder and son of former Jays scout Chris Bourjos, is expected to go early in the June draft and has had several visits from scouts, including the Jays.


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