Blue Jays add four top prospects to 40-man roster

November 16th, 2022

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have made a flurry of moves ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, with No. 2 prospect Orelvis Martinez and No. 5 Yosver Zulueta leading four names added to the 40-man roster.

The group is rounded out by 1B/OF Spencer Horwitz (No. 12) and infielder Addison Barger (No. 13). These moves required counters, of course, to balance the 40-man roster. Outfielder was designated for assignment along with outfielder and left-hander . Griffin is expected to sign with a club in a foreign professional league.

Martinez is the headliner here, and while the young slugger may still be a season away from the Major Leagues, his offensive upside has long positioned him as one of the system’s top talents. Built for power, the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, turns 21 in November and is coming off a season where he launched 30 home runs in Double-A, facing much more advanced pitching.

On the other side of those 30 homers, though, were 140 strikeouts, a .203 average and .286 on-base percentage. Those numbers will clearly need to improve, but the Blue Jays were encouraged by Martinez’s in-season adjustments and maturity. The power is undeniably there, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. comparing Martinez to a young Hanley Ramirez last spring, but Martinez’s defense and ability to produce between bombs will determine whether he stars at the big league level, or just continues to tantalize fans with his one dominant tool.

Zulueta, on the other hand, is the likeliest of this group to make an impact in 2023 and should compete for a bullpen job immediately.

A hard-throwing right-hander who turns 25 in January, “Zulu” pitched at all four full-season levels of the system in ’22, finishing with Triple-A Buffalo. Initially building up as a starter, Zulueta eventually moved into a multi-inning bullpen role, which is his likeliest job heading into the new year. Along with Nate Pearson and many younger arms at the lower levels, the Blue Jays are chasing higher upside and targeting swing-and-miss stuff that can sustain across two or three innings. Zulueta should have every opportunity to play a prominent role, and with a fastball that’s touched 100 mph in the past, he has everything he needs.

Horwitz, a 24th-round pick in the ’19 Draft, continued to show his exceptional plate approach this season in Double-A and Triple-A, posting a combined .391 on-base percentage while hitting 12 home runs. Barger, a sixth-round pick in ’18, enjoyed a full breakout in ’22, hitting .308 with 26 homers and a .933 OPS. Playing both shortstop and third base, Barger could factor into the MLB roster in ’23.

Some notable exclusions include the club’s top outfield prospect, Gabriel Martinez (No. 8), who just enjoyed a breakout season, and right-hander Adrian Hernandez (No. 23), who reached Triple-A last season as a reliever and boasts a fantastic changeup.

The decision on Tapia is an interesting one after he was acquired in the Randal Grichuk deal with the Rockies last spring and went on to appear in 128 games. Tapia had his moments, but hit .265 with a .672 OPS and was projected to earn over $5 million in arbitration this offseason, so the Blue Jays can now use that money to address needs elsewhere, particularly when it comes to pitching.

The next roster deadline facing the Blue Jays comes Friday, which is the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.