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Projecting who will make the Blue Jays’ Opening Day 26-man roster

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
1 month ago
With position players officially reporting to Dunedin, the Blue Jays Spring Training camp is officially off to the races. The club is looking to bounce back from a disappointing exit from the 2023 postseason and amid six straight October losses dating back to 2020, with the Blue Jays last playoff win coming on October 18, 2016, against Cleveland in the ALCS.
There are some new faces in camp this year and some missing from last spring, such as Hyun Jin Ryu, Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, and Whit Merrifield, while centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier has returned for another campaign with Toronto. On the flip side, there are numerous new faces from both within the organization and new additions in the form of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Justin Turner, and Yariel Rodríguez, giving the club a different look heading into another season of playing within a stacked AL East division.
The Jays’ first spring training contest will take place on February 24th against Philadelphia while the Blue Jays regular season begins on the road in Tampa Bay on March 28th. Let’s take an early prediction into what the Opening Day roster will look like assuming there are no adds/trades (current roster/invites), no injuries to impact Opening Day, and the Jays roster is 13 pitchers and 13 position players.

Pitching Staff

Starters: Kevin Gausman / Chris Bassitt / José Berríos / Yusei Kikuchi / Alek Manoah
Relievers: Jordan Romano / Erik Swanson / Tim Mayza / Yimi García / Chad Green / Génesis Cabrera / Trevor Richards / Yariel Rodríguez

Starting Rotation

For the rotation, there are no surprises here.
The likes of Gausman, Bassitt, Berríos, and Kikuchi were solid for the club last season and are poised to do so again, with all four making at least 30+ starts while Bassitt finished the year with 200 innings pitched through a team-high 33 starts. Gausman solidified his stance as the club’s ace with a Cy Young calibre campaign, leading the AL in strikeouts (237) while Berríos and Kikuchi bounced back well after dismal 2022 seasons.
The biggest question mark sits with the fifth rotation spot, as the spot is technically up for grabs but amongst just a few starters on the roster.
Former 2022 Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah has the early lead for the role; arguably, it is his to lose this spring. The 6-foot-6 right-hander struggled in 2023 and eventually found himself demoted to the Florida Complex League to revamp his mechanics. He finished the year in triple-A but also required injections in his shoulder, which sidelined him from early August on and caused some rumours of discourse between club and player, which led to trade rumours during the offseason. Entering camp, Manoah looks like a man possessed for revenge, as the West Virginia alum appears in great shape and has been getting praised all week by his teammates for his work.

Predicting the Blue Jays Opening Day roster for 2024

Competing against Manoah for the remaining spot in the rotation are Yariel Rodríguez, Bowden Francis, Mitch White, and Wes Parsons. Rodríguez is in a tricky spot, as the Cuban product did not pitch in game action last season outside of the World Baseball Classic as he awaited MLB free agency clearance and while he continued training in the Dominican, he has missed some considerable time away from competition and is likely more geared for a bullpen role in his first season with the Jays. White needs to find a spot on the roster or the Jays will have to DFA their 2022 trade deadline acquisition while Parsons is in the mix but likely starting the year in triple-A. The Jays appear to have Francis and White working as starters to begin the 2024 campaign but there is a chance Francis follows the path of Ross Stripling and becomes a swingman for the club at the big league level, which would see Rodríguez head to triple-A this year in this scenario although the club prefers the new pitcher in the big leagues, even if it’s in a bullpen role.
For now, I believe the club will have Rodríguez work as the long-man for the Jays bullpen to start the year while Francis goes to Buffalo to continue starting and will be the next man in line for a promotion. Behind Francis will be top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, who should start the campaign in triple-A and be ready for the big leagues sometime toward June/July after being limited last season due to a biceps injury.

Bullpen

The Blue Jays enter the 2024 campaign with most of the relief staff from last season back in the rankings. The club will be without Jordan Hicks (acquired at the trade deadline and signed with the Giants) and Adam Cimber (non-tendered, Angels) but outside of those two, the rest remains the same as how last season ended.
Jordan Romano will be the anchor at the back of the pen while Erik Swanson, Tim Mayza, and Yimi García will likely see some time in the setup position for this club. Compared to last spring, the Jays will have Rodríguez, Chad Green, and Génesis Cabrera available for the club right out of the gate. Green was still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and rejoined the Jays this winter with his option getting picked up while Cabrera was picked up by the Blue Jays at the 2023 trade deadline and was a solid left-handed option for manager John Schneider down the stretch. As I mentioned earlier, Rodríguez will likely work as the club’s long man to start the year and the 2023 bullpen K/9 king Trevor Richards will round out the group at least to start the season.
There likely is a bit of wiggle room in terms of who makes the bullpen for Opening Day, as Rodríguez could start the year in triple-A to get some innings under his belt, opening one spot for an internal option to take advantage of. Pitchers looking for a shot at the Opening Day bullpen include Francis, White, Nate Pearson, Hagen Danner, Zach Pop, Yosver Zulueta, and Brendon Little. Should Rodríguez not start the season in the big leagues, Francis, White, and Pearson are likely the leading candidates.

Batting Order

C: Danny Jansen/Alejandro Kirk
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
2B: Davis Schneider / Cavan Biggio
SS: Bo Bichette
3B: Isiah Kiner-Falefa / Santiago Espinal
LF: Daulton Varsho / Schneider
CF: Kevin Kiermaier
RF: George Springer
DH: Justin Turner
Bench: Ernie Clement
Looking at the position players, some locks for the lineup will be easy to get out of the way.
The catching corps will consist of Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk, and hopefully, Jansen can stay healthy and able to avoid the inside fastball to stay on the roster for a full campaign. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will slot at first base, Bo Bichette at shortstop, while Daulton Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, and George Springer will slot in left, centre, and right field respectively. The Blue Jays signed Justin Turner to a one-year deal in the offseason and the right-hander should feature as the club’s resident DH this campaign.
Where things get interesting is at second base and third base, as there currently is some competition brewing for limited spots on the big league roster amongst a host of internal talent looking to make the next step to the big leagues (or an increased role).
From the earlier media sessions this spring with manager John Schneider, it appears that Davis Schneider (no relation) will work similarly to what Merrifield was asked to do last season, splitting his time between second base and left field. This keeps Schneider’s bat in the lineup to face southpaws and also helps when Varsho is needed in centre field to cover for Kiermaier’s off-days or strategic planning, giving the Jays manager a few different avenues to explore to keep his lineup fresh and avoid injury for some of the more veteran players. The younger Schneider will likely tandem with Biggio at second base, but Turner can also take a turn at first, second, or third base as needed as well should Biggio be required elsewhere, given his utility ability across the field.
With Matt Chapman still a free agent, the hot corner is currently up for grabs at the Blue Jays camp this spring. The two likely candidates to split time at the position are Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Santiago Espinal, who possess utility player aspects that could see them slot elsewhere, should the manager require their talents elsewhere.
For now, I imagine IKF will get the nod to start the campaign at third, barring Espinal having a strong spring that pushes him ahead of the veteran, but the club could use Espinal off the bench for reps at shortstop and second as well. That same argument could be made for Kiner-Falefa as well, although he is much better on the infield versus the outfield where he spent some time during his tenure with the Yankees. On the outside looking in for third base, the club also boasts Ernie Clement, Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, and Damiano Palmegiani who are in the mix as well this spring. The club does also have Eduardo Escobar and Daniel Vogelbach (1B/DH) in camp on MiLB deals, but the likelihood of either making the Opening Day squad is slim.
With the current setup, there would only be one slot left to round out the group.
Given the current roster setup, I believe Clement will be the one to secure the last spot on the roster at least out of the gate. The 27-year-old has the most experience of the group looking to make the Opening Day roster and can play every infield position except first base, as well as he is out of options and would need to be DFA’d off the 40-man if he doesn’t make the team (which I don’t believe the front office would like to do). As long as Clement has a solid outing this spring, it might be his spot for the taking to start the campaign.
There is also an argument to be had in bringing up a left-handed bat given the numerous right-handers on the roster, which could see Barger or Spencer Horwitz potentially making the club heading into April. The addition of Turner has put Horwitz in a bit of a tough spot position-wise on the roster (1B/DH) although the Radford alum does have experience in left field as well, which could help his case.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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