By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Tim Wilken is the gift that keeps on giving.
Wilken’s mother ran the Dunedin Little League when the discarded rabble known as American League expansion franchise arrived 40 years ago this month.
The 1977 Blue Jays became the best team in Dunedin -- better than the Little Leaguers -- even if they were on their way to 107 losses.
That year Wilken threw batting practice, later became a scout, signed Jimmy Key, was presented a pair of World Series rings and now one of his drafts is a very rich Blue Jay.
After 27 years with the Jays Wilken left in 2003, spent two seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and in 2007, his second year as scouting director of the Chicago Cubs, selected a catcher named Josh Donaldson with the 48th overall pick in North America.
“I loved the way he played, he always had good instincts,” said Wilken driving between parks. “I wish he was still with the Cubs, Chris Archer too. Put them with Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and all those young players,
“You could see (Donaldson’s) 2015 year coming his final year with Oakland. He was always been a real good player, he has always been intense. It’s been his calling card.”
Jays president Mark Shapiro gave Donaldson a two-year $29 million US contract Monday night. The AL MVP will earn $11.65-million this season and $17-million in 2017. He still has another year of salary arbitration after that. And there are still two slugging elephants in the room in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
The Jays selected Brett Cecil (38th), J.P. Arencibia (21st), Trystan Magnuson (56th), Kevin Ahrens (16th) and Justin Jackson (45th) in 2007. Best three selections of the 64 first round and compensation picks were Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves), David Price (Tampa Bay) and Wilken’s Donaldson,
“The way I remember, it was his Josh’s idea to catch his sophomore year at Auburn University,” Wilken said. “He was a good defensive third baseman as a high schooler and a freshman. He put up good numbers his first year as a pro.”
At class-A Boise he had 11 doubles, nine homers, 35 RBIs, batted .346 with a 1.075 OPS. Said Wilken: “he showed right off the bat in Boise he could hit.”
The next year? Not so good.
“He didn’t get off to a good start, Josh is so competitive he probably internalized,” Wilken said. “He didn’t have a good year and we were in a pennant race. Oakland wanted Donaldson. It was a deal breaker for them.
“We traded him for a Canadian,”
The Cubs sent Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson to Oakland for Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden of Victoria, B.C. Harden went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA for general manager Jim Hendry. Donaldson was hitting .217 at class-A Peoria after 63 games in July at the time of the trade.
Donaldson caught at class-A Stockton in 2008, double-A Midland and triple-A Sacramento before becoming an infielder.
Donaldson, like Roger Clemens used to, is at Pebble Beach, Calif., where he will play AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday.
A veteran of the 1985, 1989, 1991, 1992-93 Jays post-season runs, Wilken watched the Jays play the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals before sell out crowds with flash backs to the glory days.
“You could sense the excitement, I was so happy for the fans and the city,” Wilken said. “I’ve never met Alex Anthopoulos, but I admire what he did. He went for it. He gave the city something to cheer about.
“You know who they really missed and people didn’t talk about it much was Devon Travis. Ryan Goins did a nice job but Travis has always hit ... to have him as your No. 9 hitter would have made the lineup even stronger.”
Now scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks Wilken is still based in Dunedin, which may or may not be the spring home of the Jays down the road. When he ran the Cleveland Indians Shapiro moved the team to Arizona.
“I hope that the Jays don’t go, it would be the wrong move,” said Wilken, proud Pinellas County Booster. “I don’t think moving to Arizona makes a lot of sense.
“I keep reading that the Atlanta Braves are moving to St. Petersburg on land owned by Gary Sheffield.”
The Braves and the Jays may or may not be moving.
Donaldson was Wilken’s choice in the draft and moved from the Cubs to the A’s and 1 Blue Jays Way, giving the Jays their second MVP.