How Toronto's backup infielders can make an impact in '24

February 5th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

To count the infield depth on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, you’d almost need a fourth hand.

Include Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Justin Turner as infielders, and you’ll hit 13 on the 40-man roster alone, a number that continues to creep higher when you consider prospects like Damiano Palmegiani who are not yet on the 40-man but could compete for a role at some point in 2024.

Depth can be a beautiful thing, but it needs to be more than just depth for the sake of depth. Good teams build complementary depth, stacking players who excel in different areas. A lefty masher here, an ace defender there, a super-utility man who can play the outfield in case it all goes wrong.

There are locks, of course. Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio aren’t going anywhere, nor are Kiner-Falefa and Turner. The group beyond that is much murkier, though, and each player will need to provide more than just depth. They’ll need their ticket, the one trait that makes them stand out from the group.

Here’s a look at that picture, with each player’s positions listed in the likeliest order:

(2B, 3B, SS)
The 2022 All-Star hit .248 with a .644 OPS last season, numbers that will only work if he has a dominant trait to help the lineup. Espinal doesn’t offer much on the bases, though, and his defensive versatility is matched by many on this list. He needs to turn the clock back to his '21 performance at the dish, but he could be one of the likelier names from this group to be dealt if there’s still a trade out there.
Espinal’s ticket: Hit lefties

(2B, LF)
The breakout star of 2023 needs to be on this roster; it’s just a matter of how he fits. Schneider’s approach was so refreshing late last season, giving the lineup the pull power it needed, and he’s a sneaky candidate to hit 25-30 home runs with regular reps.
Schneider’s ticket: Play passable defense in left field to complement his infield reps

The Blue Jays are high on their No. 16 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and he fits the offense they envision under Don Mattingly. Turner’s presence muddies the waters, but there’s still room on the bench for the on-base machine who profiles as a good late-game bat.
Horwitz’s ticket: Irregular starts and pinch-hit opportunities against righties

(2B, 3B, SS)
Toronto’s No. 2 prospect is a powerhouse whose batting practice draws teammates over to the cage. If he can prove that his renaissance from a year ago was a sign of things to come, Martinez will force a decision by midsummer, especially if this team is lacking power. He’s best suited at second base.
Martinez’s ticket: Power, power, power

(RF, 3B, 2B)
Barger was the darling of camp a year ago, then ran into injuries and couldn’t regain that momentum in Triple-A. There’s some Brett Lawrie to Barger, a max-effort prospect who could endear himself to fans. The power potential is tantalizing, now the Blue Jays need to see their No. 5 prospect reset and find consistency.
Barger’s ticket: Making himself the “next man up” in the outfield … because the infield is crowded enough

Leo Jimenez (SS, 2B)
The slick-fielding Jimenez is Toronto’s No. 6 prospect but already entering his final option year at age 22. I’d rank Jimenez alongside Espinal as the likeliest names to be dealt from this group, but Jimenez can be a big leaguer for the Blue Jays, perhaps an above-average one if he continues to hit.
Jimenez’s ticket: Next man up if Bichette is injured and potential long-term shortstop option if Bichette does not stay beyond 2025

A true utility man, Lopez has gotten the opportunities but hasn’t stuck in the big leagues. The 25-year-old has the speed and contact skill to be a decent MLB hitter, too, but he's coming off a down year in Triple-A and is out of options, which is worth remembering in late March.
Lopez’s ticket: Jack of all trades who competes for the final bench spot

Damiano Palmegiani (3B, 1B)
A bit of a dark horse entering camp, the No. 18 prospect’s defense is still improving, and he’s got pop. Palmegiani hit 23 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He’s got some real fans within the organization and could position himself well in case injuries hit late in the season.
Palmegiani’s ticket: Mash … and be ready

Ernie Clement (SS, 2B, 3B)
All Clement did was bat .380 over 29 games last season. It’s a small sample, but he did his part and impressed many with his approach. The fact that the Blue Jays trusted Clement with some shortstop reps last season matters here, too.
Clement’s ticket: Beat out Espinal, Jimenez and others as the No. 2 shortstop