Quick hits column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

LATIN SIGNING

- The Blue Jays wanted to increase their presence in Latin America this winter. They did so by signing free-agent third baseman Leance Soto and giving him a $675,000 US signing bonus. Soto spent part of the summer of 2004 working out with the Baltimore Orioles and good friend Miguel Tejada, but the O's chose not to sign him. The bonus is the fourth highest in club history given a non-drafted free agent. The Jays gave shortstop Josephang Bernhardt, of the Dominican Republic $770,000 in 1997; lefty Diegomar Markwell of Curacao $705,000 in 1996, and right-hander Jose Pett of Brazil $700,000 in 1992.

- Outfielder Mike Saunders, of Victoria, B.C., was an 11th-round choice of the Seattle Mariners in 2004. After hitting .304 for the Tallahassee Eagles with seven doubles, two triples, three homers and 25 RBIs, he was about to re-enter the June draft. However, before the close period, former Seattle general manager Pat Gillick signed Saunders. It is believed Saunders received a signing bonus of $260,000 US.

- Going into the weekend, the most productive No. 5 spot in the majors belonged to the Jays, where Shea Hillenbrand has hit most of the season. The Baltimore Orioles leadoff spot sat No. 1 with a .381 average, followed by the No. 9 spot in the Tampa Bay order.

SUPERFAN

- When we covered the Expos, it was always a big deal how Donald Sutherland was filming in Ireland, or wherever, and he would phone someone in Montreal and get them to put the phone beside the radio. That earned him the title as the team's No. 1 fan. If Amersia Thompson is not the Jays No. 1 fan, we don't know who is. Thompson is the first fan in the door when the Rogers Centre opens on game day, one of the last to leave and is waiting when the players leave in their cars. She even bought Vernon Wells a plaque: "To my favourite No. 1 centre fielder Vernon Wells. Congratulations on winning the Gold Glove. Hard work pays off. From Amersia #1 World's Biggest Jays Fan."

BUREAU SHOPPING

- Whitby righty Mark James of the Ontario Blue Jays improved his stock the most at the two MLB scouting bureau camps this week. First baseman Nick Weglarz of Stevensville and Team Ontario and Toronto righty Ivan Rusova of the Jays remain the best area high schoolers heading into the June draft. Weglarz hit two home runs at 9th Line Diamond in Mississauga yesterday -- one landing in the parking lot, the other going even deeper.


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