The Hagerstown Suns are no different from most other minor-league teams. Younger and more confused than ever.
A Single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Suns open their South Atlantic League season tonight in Columbus, Ga. But the team that shows up in Hagerstown for the home opener April 18 may not be intact very long.
"We have a much younger team than we would typically get," said David Blackstone, the Suns' assistant general manager. "And complicating matters is that there are a few starting pitchers who are hurt and will start the season on the disabled list."
As recently as two days ago, Blackstone didn't have a complete roster. But he did know that the South Atlantic League's defending Northern Division champions would have some relatively high-profile prospects.
The two most intriguing -- both budding Cal Ripken clones -- could man the left side of the infield. Kevin Witt was the Blue Jays' No. 1 draft pick last year, and the 6-foot-4 shortstop hit seven home runs while batting .255 in a short-season league for Medicine Hat (Alberta).
Third baseman Andrew Thompson represents another draft gamble for which the Blue Jays have become famous. A high school All-America quarterback, Thompson was thought to be certain to pursue a football career in college.
He was taken on the 23rd round by the Blue Jays, whose dollars persuaded him to invest in a baseball career. Thompson signed late last summer, so he will be making his professional debut with the Suns.
"That's unusual, and he may be a little over his head," said Blackstone. "But he must be an awfully good prospect if they are going to start him here."
The Suns will have two other top prospects -- right-handed pitcher Jeremy Lee, a first-round selection in 1993, and catcher Julio Mosquera. Lee, who is 6 feet 7 and weighs 220 pounds, was 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA for St. Catharines in the New York-Penn League last year. Mosquera hit .341 with 44 runs batted in at Medicine Hat, where he was the team's Most Valuable Player.
"We also have a replacement player, outfielder Aurelio Llanos, assigned to us," said Blackstone. "He's 24 years old, but we really don't know much about him, except that he's from Puerto Rico and showed enough [while major league players were on strike] to get a longer look."
With as many as 15 players to come off the 40-man big league rosters, Blackstone expects the minor leagues to go through an adjustment period within the next two months.
"Some rosters will be overhauled," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see if the ripple effect reaches us."
SUNS AT A GLANCE
League: South Atlantic, Single-A
Manager: Omar Malave (second year)
1994 record: 80-56 (first, Northern Division)
1994 attendance: 112,000
Stadium: Hagerstown Municipal Stadium (capacity 4,500)
Directions to stadium: Route 70 west to Exit 32B (Route 40) to Cleveland Ave., left to park.
Ticket prices: Box seats $6; adult general admission $4; children, senior citizens $2.
Ticket information: (301) 791-6266
Starting time for home games: 7:05 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 2:05 p.m. Sunday
Radio: WJEJ (1240 AM)
APRIL: 6-9--At Columbus; 10-13--At Albany; 14-15--At Hickory; 16-17--At Asheville; 18-21--Savannah; 22-25--Charleston, S.C.; 27-30--At Greensboro
MAY: 1-4--Kannapolis; 5-8--Capital City; 9-12--Greensboro; 13-14--At Charleston, W.Va.; 16-19--Macon; 20-23--At Asheville; 24-25--At Hickory; 26-27--At Kannapolis; 28-31--Fayetteville
JUNE: 2-5--At Augusta; 6-7--At Charleston, W.Va.; 8-9--Charleston, W.Va.; 10-13--At Fayetteville; 14-17--Hickory; 19--SAL All-Star Game at Albany, Ga.; 21--At Charleston, W.Va.; 22--Charleston, W.Va.; 23-26--Augusta; 27-30--Fayetteville.
JULY: 1-4--At Kannapolis; 5-8--Hickory; 9-10--Greensboro; 12-15--At Macon; 16-19--At Capital City; 20-23--Asheville; 25-28--At Greensboro; 29-30--At Hickory; 31--At Fayetteville.
AUGUST: 1--At Fayetteville; 2-5--At Charleston, W.Va.; 6-9--Columbus; 10-13--Albany; 15-18--At Savannah; 19-22--At Charleston, S.C.; 23-26--Charleston, W.Va.; 27-28--Asheville; 29-30--At Asheville; 31--Kannapolis.