If you haven't seen Eric Hinske play by now, you're missing out. He will win the American League Rookie of the Year, and looks destined for a long and productive career. Although he toils in anonymity in Toronto, Hinske has been raising eyebrows around
the American League all season.
Acquired in an off-season trade from Oakland for closer Billy Koch, Hinske
has become the cornerstone of Toronto's youth movement. "It was the off-season,
I was just doing my off-season things and not really paying attention to anything going on," the rookie said. "I got a call
one day and they said I was traded so, yeah, it was a surprise, but it was great for me."
To this point Hinske's biggest fan has been Toronto's rookie General Manager
J.P. Ricciardi. Ricciardi, who acted as Director of Player Personnel in Oakland,
ensured Hinkse was included in the Koch trade. He has since showered praise on
the young third baseman, comparing him to Jason Giambi and calling him the Blue Jays "prototypical player".
"We (Ricciardi & I) get along really well," Hinske said. "He has been
huge for me he gave me a chance to play in the big leagues everyday so I'll be indebted to him for awhile."
Hinske, however, hasn't felt any pressure due to the comparisons and praise. "It's more flattering than anything else I think," the 25 year old explained. "They gave me the job as a rookie, and I try not to put any pressure on myself. I am just trying to go with the flow, play the way I played to get here and stay consistent."
One of things that attracted Hinske to the Jays was his patient approach
at the plate. Many credit the Oakland organization for instilling that approach
in Hinkse, but he says it has been part of his game since the Cubs drafted him in the 17th round in 1998.
"I've had (a patient approach) pretty much throughout my career," Hinske
explained. "I came up with the Cubs and I always had a lot of walks during my
minor league seasons with them, and I think that's why the A's traded for me. I
just try to be patient and get my pitch to hit and be aggressive in the zone."
While Hinske's ability as a hitter has never been in question, many have
expressed concern about his prowess in the field. "I made some errors early,
I was struggling a little bit, but I've been playing fine the last 40, 50 games," the young infielder said. "I am just trying to get better everyday and I am feeling a lot more comfortable things are getting better."
"Brian Butterfield, our third base coach, is our infield instructor we
have a routine we go through everyday. I just keep working at it," he commented.
One of the most surprising things about Hinkse has been his success stealing
bases. The 6-2 225 pound slugger swiped 20, 16, 14, and 20 bases from 1998-2001
in the minors, and has stolen 11 as of August 20th. "I am tricking them, they dont think I'm gonna go," he joked. "I
just try to get a good jump and steal off the pitcher by picking a good pitch to go on."
The 2002 season has been a thrill for the Menasha, WI native to this point. He made his major league debut at Fenway Park on April 1st, and collected his first
major league hit off Pedro Martinez. "He (Martinez) broke my bat, it was kind
of a bloop single over the first baseman's head - I just stayed inside it enough to get it over his head," Hinske explained. "The bases were loaded I got two RBIs it was awesome!"
His first big league home run came in dramatic fashion three weeks later
- a game winning blast in the 10th off Ramiro Mendoza in Yankee Stadium. "It's
been a pretty crazy ride, it was hard to have it all sink in at first its been a blast I am just trying to have fun with it,"
Although he has already been touted as American League Rookie of the Year,
Hinkse keeps a level head and team-orientated goals. "I just try to help the
team win, personal awards would be great, but I'm not going to think about any of that stuff," the Scottsdale, AZ resident
"I just try to keep the same approach at the plate, get some hits, and
win more games in the second half than we did in the first half. We had a pretty
tough start to the season, but weve been playing better now and hopefully we can just keep it rolling," the former Arkansas
The Toronto Blue Jays may be out of the playoff race, but they are committed
to a youth movement to bring them back to their former glory. Eric Hinkse is
the cornerstone of that movement and the odds-on favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. Have you seen him play? - David Zingler