Injury replacement is simplest path to majors for Blue Jays’ surging hitting prospects

Photo credit:Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
2 days ago
While the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm system is considered bottom-third in the sport, there are a handful of talented prospects down in triple-A Buffalo that fans will likely see up with the big-league squad at some point this season.
The Bisons entered 2024 with the sixth-best roster in all of the minor leagues per MLB Pipeline, and one key reason responsible for that ranking is the amount of talent that resides within their batting order, specifically in the top half. With names like Spencer Horwitz, Orelvis Martinez and Addison Barger in the mix, it’s easy to become excited while theorizing how they could impact the Blue Jays, especially considering all three have gotten off to red-hot starts.
That trio leads Buffalo’s lineup in wRC+ among qualified hitters (min. 50 plate appearances) thus far, prompting many to wonder when either of those three might be called upon at the highest level of competition to help an underperforming Blue Jays offence that sits 21st in runs scored per game (3.88) through 24 contests.
But the only problem with promoting from within is there isn’t a clear path to the majors. An injury or two could easily solve that issue, and there’s likely an IL stint on the horizon for Kevin Kiermaier. Outside of that, Toronto appears content with its current 26-man roster, at least for now.
If that changes throughout the summer, there should be opportunities that call for the services of Horwitz, Barger and Martinez — all of whom are already on the 40-man roster — at one point or another. So, let’s examine how each prospect could arrive to the majors and what role that might be in.

Spencer Horwitz

2024 stats: 18 games – 1 HR, 13 RBI, .353/.488/.485, 164 wRC+
After receiving a small taste of the big leagues last season, Horwitz entered this past off-season seemingly primed to have a strong chance of breaking camp with the big-league club out of spring training following the departure of fellow lefty Brandon Belt.
Well, at least he did until the Blue Jays signed left-handed slugger Daniel Vogelbach and, eventually, Canadian Joey Votto. At which point, it quickly became clear Horwitz was destined to repeat triple-A for a third time in his professional career.
But if the goal was to send a message — it certainly worked.
The 26-year-old first baseman has remained an on-base machine, hitting well above .300 while earning 18 walks in as many games, resulting in a team-leading 20.9-per-cent walk rate. So far, that’s seen him walk more times than he’s struck out (11).
It isn’t about whether Horwitz deserves another shot in the majors after playing 15 games with the Blue Jays in 2023. He has already proven that he does. It is more about balancing between player development and helping the big-league club win games.
Horwitz can certainly do that with how he’s performed at triple-A this season. At the same time, his playing time would almost certainly become sporadic, considering he shares the same position as Vogelbach, who’s earned one start per week and has logged just 18 plate appearances on the year.
The Blue Jays have often made it feel like they’re carrying 12 position players rather than 13 with how infrequently they’ve utilized that final spot on their bench, just as they did last season. So, with that in mind, it probably wouldn’t benefit the team nor the player if Vogelbach were swapped out for Horwitz unless the latter were to see an uptick in at-bats.
As unfair as it is, odds are Horwitz’s role will likely be limited as an injury replacement for Vogelbach unless Justin Turner or Vladimir Guerreor Jr. lands on the IL. Then, more opportunities would be available for him either at DH or first base.

Addison Barger

2024 stats: 19 games – 3 HR, 21 RBI, .314/.435/.586, 163 wRC+
Defensive versatility will likely lead to Barger becoming the first position player promoted from Buffalo this season, as he’s on his way to meet the team in Kansas City and is expected to be active for Wednesday’s game.
The 24-year-old has played every position but left field, centre field, catcher and pitcher since the Blue Jays made him a sixth-round selection in 2018. With his impressive arm strength, third base is probably the position he’s best suited for. But given he can comfortably move to right field, he makes for an intriguing call-up candidate.
Not to mention what Barger could bring to the table as a left-handed power bat.
Granted, the Blue Jays are already loaded with infielders at the major league level. However, only one of them hits from the left side of the plate — Cavan Biggio. Not only would Barger add a second lefty to that group, but he’d also insert another element into the club’s matchup-based lineup construction.
Let’s use Isiah Kiner-Falefa as an example here. He has historically struggled against sinkers and sliders, two pitches that Barger has handled well over the last few seasons, including 2024. So, when they’re facing a righty with that type of arsenal, he could start at third base to provide a more favourable matchup during those days.
That’d be one advantage to rostering Barger over Vogelbach or Horwitz. Another is that he could move to the outfield for a team that lacks a traditional fourth outfielder. He could shift to right when Springer needs a day off and split time in left with Davis Schneider when one of Daulton Varsho and Kiermaier isn’t in the lineup, providing him with many avenues to earning sufficient at-bats.
As one of the notable third-base prospects in the system, the Blue Jays need to figure out what they have in Barger moving forward. Is he ready to handle big-league pitching? Can he play well enough to stick at the hot corner?
These types of questions probably need to be answered before this season’s end.

Orelvis Martinez

2024 stats: 18 games – 6 HR, 18 RBI, .333/.392/.681, 167 wRC+
There is no hotter hitter in the Blue Jays organization than Martinez right now, and that’s a key reason why many believe the 22-year-old has a solid chance of making his much-anticipated major league debut this season.
Martinez, currently riding a 15-game hitting streak, leads Toronto’s minor-league system in home runs, SLG and wRC+ despite being less than 20 games into his fifth professional season. In the six times he’s left the yard, five have occurred in as many games.
For a Blue Jays offence struggling to hit for power, as they own a 19th-ranked SLG (.374) as a team, they’d surely benefit from adding a bit of that thump to their lineup. But for a player as young as Martinez, management must carefully decide what’s better for his long-term development — playing every day at triple-A or looking to create damage in the majors.
Martinez’s bat will ultimately be what carries him to The Show. His glove, however, will likely be a vital piece of the equation as well. With five errors in only 15 starts at second base thus far, it’s fair to assume he still requires additional time to gain more experience working exclusively on the right side of the diamond for the first time.
Having said that, if an injury occurs to Biggio, Schneider or Ernie Clement, he should receive serious consideration for a big-league promotion — as will Leo Jimenez, who’s in his final option year.

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