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As Blue Jays’ camp winds down, decisions on remaining roster battles are becoming clear

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Photo credit:Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
30 days ago
If you can believe it, Opening Day arrives next Thursday for 28 of the 30 big-league clubs – the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will open in South Korea this Wednesday. As such, that means we’re entering the home stretch of spring training (thankfully).
To that end, the Toronto Blue Jays will wrap up Grapefruit League play with eight games in seven days – including this Saturday’s split-squad action – before heading to St. Petersburg, Fla., to open the 2024 campaign against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Before then, however, this club will likely have a few roster decisions to make before departing for the regular season.
The good news is this spring began with most of the big-league-level jobs already filled, leaving only a few up for grabs in camp. That included a few bench spots, the No. 5 starter’s role and, potentially, the eighth reliever position.
While a week’s worth of exhibition contests remain, the Blue Jays probably won’t need that many to make their determinations, with nearly every one of those roster battles seemingly approaching a conclusion. And, for some, they likely already have.
Injuries could throw a wrench into those plans, as we’ve seen recently with Danny Jansen and a small handful of pitchers, most notably Kevin Gausman. So things could change between now and next Thursday.
Many baseball executives and coaches dread the final week of spring training for that very reason. Nobody wants to lose a key player this close to the starting line. But at the moment, the Blue Jays brass should have a fairly light workload in selecting the 26 players that’ll appear on their Opening Day roster.

Ernie Clement has done more than enough to break camp with Blue Jays

Though an official decision hasn’t occurred yet, Ernie Clement has, more than likely, made this team and will be on Toronto’s roster for next week’s season opener – that you can take to the bank.
The 27-year-old entered spring training at a crossroads, needing to showcase himself to the Blue Jays and the sport’s 29 other clubs, considering he was out of minor-league options. With a crowded infield room filled with capable big leaguers, the odds seemed stacked against him to remain with the organization.
But that’s no longer the case. Instead, the versatile defender has proven his worth in the field and, more importantly, at the plate over these last few weeks, positioning him to occupy one of the club’s four reserve spots once the regular season begins.
Clement’s defence has remained consistent everywhere he’s stood, including at second base, third base and shortstop. However, his bat has impressed the most, as he’s hitting .361/.378/.667 and has only struck out once in 37 plate appearances across 13 contests.
He has also gone deep three times, two of which have come off front-line starters from within the AL East Division – Baltimore’s Corbin Burnes and Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin.
It’s not just Clement’s results that have been eye-popping, though. So, too, has been his quality-of-contact metrics that have included a significant uptick, producing a 95-m.p.h. exit velocity on eight of his 22 tracked batted ball events.
The Blue Jays likely would’ve exposed the right-handed-hitting infielder to waivers if not for this offensive explosion, and doing so almost certainly would’ve punched his ticket to another organization. Now, he has seemingly leapfrogged Santiago Espinal, who, with two options left, seems poised to open this season at Triple-A, where non-roster invitee Eduardo Escobar could join him – if he doesn’t opt-out.
That duo appears to be on the outside, given that Clement has performed well enough to earn a roster spot, and Davis Schneider’s outfield availability should keep him in the majors. Barring a late addition, say, a power-hitting right-handed outfielder, for example, those two will likely occupy two of the club’s four bench spots.

Daniel Vogelbach may open this season with Blue Jays, job is far from safe amid Joey Votto signing

One of those remaining two could go to a left-handed DH type like Vogelbach, who’s in camp as a non-roster invitee and isn’t currently on Toronto’s 40-man roster.
The 31-year-old has certainly added thump to this offence in camp, slugging .500 while blasting a pair of home runs, one of which he thoroughly enjoyed against now-injured New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, with the latter taking exception to his slow trot around the bases.
Still, Vogelbach has some company competing for that big-league roster spot. At first, he and Spencer Horwitz seemed they’d duel it out for that gig. With how things have played out since, though, the Blue Jays have shown they’d prefer to have the latter earn regular playing time in Buffalo rather than potentially risking his development in a part-time role in the majors.
Then enters Joey Votto, a fellow non-roster invitee. The 40-year-old had a late start to spring training, but his Blue Jays spring debut couldn’t have started any better, as he turned on a first-pitch heater from Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler that just had enough distance to clear the wall in left-centre.
What followed afterwards wasn’t as jaw-dropping, at least in a positive fashion, with Votto injuring his ankle after tripping over a bat in the dugout. It appears minor, especially considering he’s scheduled to participate in Tuesday’s batting practice session. But it remains unclear if he’ll receive a runway long enough to seriously push Vogelbach for a spot on the bench.
Running up against the clock, Votto will probably begin the 2024 season in the minors, while Vogelbach opens in the majors. In any case, management would have to create space on the 40-man roster, likely needing to free up a pair of spots for a lefty DH and Brian Serven or Payton Henry, with either – probably the former – serving as Jansen’s injury replacement.
Vogelbach’s job won’t be safe, however. If he struggles to perform, Votto – or another lefty like Nathan Lukes, whose chances of breaking camp for a second consecutive year appear slim to none – could be called up to supplement his presence as a reserve.

Bowden Francis has earned a rotation spot, Mitch White is a potential option to round out staff

Francis has fought his way into the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, and he’ll likely be more than just the club’s No. 5 starter, at least through the first turn or two.
Alek Manoah (shoulder soreness) will likely begin this season on the injured list, creating the opportunity for Francis to prove himself in a starting role, and he didn’t disappoint. The 27-year-old has made four appearances (three starts) thus far, pitching to a 1.93 ERA across 14.0 innings.
Additionally, the right-hander has struck out 12 hitters, issuing just a pair of walks and hit-by-pitches each.
One of the goals set by Toronto was for Francis to maintain his velocity deep into outings, which he achieved in his previous six-inning outing against the Minnesota Twins’ A-lineup last week. But that was the first time he had completed at least four innings this spring. So, he may still have more to prove in that department.
Nevertheless, after pitching his way back to the majors and onto the 40-man roster last season, Francis will be part of a rotation that includes recently-named Opening Day starter José Berríos, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi.
The hope is that Gausman will be the final member of that group. However, there’s a strong chance he’ll be unavailable for the first turn in the rotation, possibly more, depending on how quickly his build-up progresses through the remainder of camp.
If the Blue Jays ace isn’t ready for the Houston Astros series starting on April 1, White has emerged as a candidate to slide from the bullpen to the rotation if needed. His Grapefruit League results aren’t great, sporting a 5.84 ERA with 10 walks in 12.1 innings, but the team appears to be betting on last season’s strong finish at Triple-A.
The 29-year-old righty might only need to make one start before returning to a multi-inning relief role in the bullpen. But if Gausman opens on the IL, he’d miss the first four series and likely wouldn’t return until Toronto’s second home series of the year versus the Colorado Rockies (Apr. 12-14) – extending White’s stint as a starter.

Competition for final bullpen spot (if needed) likely between Wes Parsons, Nate Pearson

Let’s continue that thought point for a second here. If White’s needed in the rotation, that’ll leave the Blue Jays with only seven relievers on Opening Day. Assuming they don’t operate one arm short against the Rays, someone must fill that final position in the ‘pen.
But who might that be?
There haven’t been many – if any – relief arms pushing for a big-league opportunity in camp. Otherwise, there’d be increased discussion regarding Trevor Richards’ future with the organization. But in terms of candidates already on the 40-man roster, look no further than Parsons and Pearson.
The latter could be a potential DFA option, with the club needing to open multiple spots on a full 40-man. That seems unlikely, though, based on a lack of healthy, big-league-ready arms capable of throwing multiple innings. With that in mind, he might be the front-runner to line up behind Francis and White on the depth chart.
This final stretch of games will be crucial for Pearson to prove he deserves consideration, too. And there’s a simple solution: attack the strike zone with authority and consistency. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as the hard-throwing righty knows all too well.
The opportunity is seemingly in front of him, especially with Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson currently on the mend. All he has to do is take advantage of it. But that hasn’t happened yet, and if it doesn’t, the 27-year-old will begin his final option year back in a familiar setting, the minor leagues.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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