3 big questions come into focus at Blue Jays camp

March 13th, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Spring Training is going exactly how the Blue Jays had hoped: quietly.

For a contending club that landed in Dunedin this February with a good 24 of its 26 roster spots already chiseled into stone, no news is good news. But we’re finally reaching the part of camp when some of the finer details start to come into focus.

Monday’s 16-3 win over the Red Sox brought another dose of regular-season reality, with making his spring debut behind the plate with his favorite tag-team partner, . Day by day for these next two weeks, you’ll see the Blue Jays inch closer to simulating Opening Day.

Here’s a look at what’s left for the stretch run:

The 26th man

continues to be an interesting option here, and the Blue Jays’ No. 14 prospect opened the World Baseball Classic by going 2-for-5 with a walk and two RBIs against Great Britain on Monday. Lopez is playing shortstop for Canada at the Classic, but he has the versatility to move all over the diamond. He’s also opened Spring Training 7-for-15 (.467), and that ability to make contact with some speed to burn is one of his biggest draws as a reserve.

“Whenever you have a pretty simple approach and simple mechanics, it’s easy to have a bit of a layoff and get back in and do your thing,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “And if it’s a longer period of time, it’s just as good. A lot of stuff in that role works in his favor.”

Nathan Lukes is in the conversation if the Blue Jays want to keep a more traditional fourth outfielder, and he’s earned a shot at making his MLB debut, but with and seeing plenty of outfield action, that’s a complicated picture.

Addison Barger is the X-factor in all of this. The club’s No. 6 prospect has skyrocketed up lists coming off a big 2022 season, when he hit .308 with 26 home runs and a .933 OPS. His strong arm fits well on the left side of the infield and he’s started to take reps in the outfield -- including a left-field start on Monday -- which isn’t just a coincidence.

Barger played just eight games at Triple-A last season, so he likely needs a little more seasoning at that level, but he’s earned every bit of the attention he’s getting this spring, and he should impact the MLB club soon.

Who catches whom (and when)?

The duo of and Kirk is a clear strength, one that most clubs in this league envy. With  in the DH spot this season, though, the Blue Jays won’t need to DH their catchers as often, which is particularly good news for Kirk after he faded down the stretch.

“We’ve been talking about that quite a bit,” Schneider said. “It may be a few less games for Jansen and Kirk at the DH spot. We’re going to look at matchups and try to dive deep in performance, and health plays a part of it. Ideally, you have Brandon healthy and it allows Kirky and Jano to stay healthy. That’s a great thing. I think it’s going to be pretty evenly split.”

The short version? Kirk will catch Manoah, and given his exceptional pitch-blocking numbers, he could be a good fit for the majority of ’s starts. Jansen, with his knack for calling games and managing pitchers, could be a good match with ’s walk-in closet full of pitches. How they match up offensively with the opposing starter will matter, too, with Kirk as the contact machine and Jansen as the power hitter in this complementary couple.

The No. 6 (and 7 … and 8 … ) starter

This doesn’t sound important in mid-March. By June or July, it will be.

The Blue Jays’ top four is set. has the clear path to the No. 5 job, and if that’s how it plays out, with sliding to the bullpen in an important swingman role, White would be next in line. Clubs will always need seven, eight or twelve starters, though, so this depth conversation has to go much deeper.

and are next in that conversation right now, with and further down. No. 3 prospect Yosver Zulueta and No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann will be options soon enough, while could return later this season from Tommy John surgery.

The hope is that Toronto’s opening five can remain healthy until some of these names have a chance to emerge.