Orlando Thill Hudson | 2B | 2002-2005 | Career Stats | Gold Glove (2005)
Had he not been traded to Arizona during the offseason, Orlando Hudson would've been the first active Blue Jay on the list. As a consolation prize, however, he's still the youngest player to appear thus far.
The Blue Jays' fascination with Hudson was evident from the beginning, as they not only drafted him once, but twice! The Blue Jays drafted him out of high school in the 33rd round of the 1996 amateur draft, but Hudson decided to attend Spartanburg Methodist College instead. Well, the following season, he was available in the draft, and interestingly enough, Toronto drafted him again. However, in one year's time his already relatively modest stock had fallen considerably, because the Blue Jays drafted him in the 43rd round of the 1997 amateur draft, a full ten rounds after he was selected the previous year.
Hudson developed quite slowly during the beginning of his tenure with the Blue Jays. By the year 2000, his fourth season with the organization, he hit .239/.320/.358 for an OPS of .678 (albeit in only 134 AB). He hadn't developed any power or speed since he first joined the organization and his future looked uncertain. On the other hand, he annually posted good K/BB rates and demonstrated some doubles power, each of which typically bodes well for future success. In 2001, at the age of 23 and in dire need to prove his worth to management, Hudson broke out, hitting .307/.385/.471 for Tennessee of the Southern League (AA).
At the time Hudson broke out, the oft-injured and often underachieving Homer Bush was the team's primary second baseman. Hudson was clearly the most suitable replacement within the organization, and it was only a matter of time before he took over the reigns at second base.
Well, he continued his vastly-improved play into the 2004 season, proving he could handle AAA pitching. Homer Bush, on the other hand, was suffering through a dreadful season with the Blue Jays. He put up a line of .231/.268/.295 and was soon dealt to the Florida Marlins. The door had swung wide open for Hudson and he finished the season as the Blue Jays' starting second baseman.
Much in the same vein as his minor league career, he struggled to adapt to his new environment. In his first three games, he went 1-for-11 with nary a walk. However, in his fourth game, he broke out in a big way, going 3-for-3 with two walks to raise his OBP from .091 to much more respectable .375. He wound up finishing the season with a line of .276/.319/.443, which are very respectable totals for a rookie middle infielder.
Offensively, his major league performance hasn't quite mimicked what he accomplished in the minors. As of now, his offensive production has been adequate, but nothing indicates it'll ever improve substantially. Of course, now that he's in Arizona, he'll play in hitter's park, which could help vault him to the next level. However, the Diamondbacks aren't particularly concerned with his offensive output, because Orlando's value mostly stems from his defense, which is universally praised.
In fact, he's posted the highest range factor [(PO + A) divided by innings] in each full season he's played -- and by a wide margin, too. Last season, the difference between Hudson (5.83 Rng) and the second highest-ranked second baseman, Jose Castillo of Pittsburgh (5.53 Rng), was as large as the difference between the Castillo and the ninth-ranked second baseman, Ruben Gotay of Kansas City (5.23 Rng). According to David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR), Hudson was expected to make approximately 413 outs based on the balls he had to field last season. Well, remarkably, he made 490 outs instead, which led to his being the top-ranked second baseman according to the model. And he was rewarded for his fielding prowess, garnering an AL Gold Glove award as the league's top second baseman.
Despite his great play, Hudson was considered expendable by management during this past offseason. Along with Miguel Batista, he was traded to Arizona in exchange for Troy Glaus and prospect Sergio Santos. I certainly understand the positive implications associated with making that deal, but I can't help but feel uneasy about it. Hudson is an arbitration-eligible player who's still in the prime of his career, and the Blue Jays' defense will likely suffer a significant drop in production as a result of his departure. On the other hand, Aaron Hill proved his defensive worth during his brief stint at second base last season, but he should by no means be expected to match Hudson's performance. Although, if he can continue last season's strong defensive play, it would greatly benefit what looks to be a weakened defensive corps.
Along with his exceptional on-field performance, Hudson was great off the field. He frequented team events and volunteered a great portion of his time to charity. I fondly remember a segment he did with Rogers Sportsnet, during which him and former Blue Jays shortstop Chris Woodward would call Toronto Maple Leafs games from a press box. And according to Dave Till, who runs the Blue Jays Memory Project, he once called J.P. Ricciardi a pimp. Come on, who among us hasn't dreamt of calling the boss a pimp at least once?