Need for true depth coming into focus for Blue Jays

June 14th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- As John Schneider listed off the Blue Jays’ injury updates and roster moves prior to Tuesday night’s opener in Baltimore, it started to sound like a verse from Mambo No. 5.

A little bit of on the IL. A little bit of in the lineup. A little bit of on the roster. A little bit of in the bullpen.

For the first six weeks of the season, Schneider’s impressive ability to remember all of the right names, body parts and dates wasn’t necessary. He’d simply say that there were no updates that day and move on to questions, which is a beautiful place to be if you’re a manager.

Those days never last in baseball, though, and nothing tests your depth like life in the American League East. Tuesday’s 11-6 loss at Camden Yards reiterated that the Orioles are not just a distant threat to the Blue Jays, but a major problem knocking down their door after their young and incredibly talented lineup jumped all over starter .

“That was an uncharacteristic outing out of Chris,” said Schneider. “I think there were pitches to the middle of the plate, he couldn’t really get the ball inside to the lefties and they took advantage.”

Tuesday, Toronto’s depth pieces only saw action because of the blowout, with stepping in for a pinch-hit home run and some others following off the bench. The Blue Jays have used their bench in a very unique way this season, though, which is another thing that the realities of baseball might not allow to last much longer.

When beat out prospect for the 26th roster spot coming out of Spring Training, it was with the understanding that Lukes might not play much. That roster spot was briefly handed off to before returning to Lukes, but the usage remained true.

The Blue Jays didn’t get a base hit from that roster spot until May 21. Lukes has seen just 23 plate appearances in 23 games. He’s earned this roster spot and the opportunity to step in when the Blue Jays need an outfielder, but it’s not as simple as that. Outside of the catching position, this roster is so versatile that a player’s position isn’t always the deciding factor when injuries strike. Hence, Belt being replaced by utility man Clement.

“It’s versatility, with where we are on a nine-game stretch before an off-day, and being able to cover multiple spots,” Schneider said. “I think the spot for him is very matchup driven. We’ll kind of wait and see. It’s very similar to what he was doing last time he was up. It’s matchup driven and he offers a lot of versatility for us.”

With all that versatility, including four players who can play second base and someone like who can play the outfield in front of Lukes, it’s not often the Blue Jays have to dig deep. Will Toronto’s approach to depth change, though, if it needs someone to play regularly, not just provide another layer of depth at four or five spots?

Clement has earned his way into these spots with a great stretch of play for Triple-A Buffalo, but he’s not alone.

, the Blue Jays’ No. 18 prospect, entered Tuesday batting .302 with a .424 on-base percentage thanks to one of the best plate approaches in the entire organization. He doesn’t bring the pop of a traditional first baseman with just two home runs, but his ability to work quality at-bats and put the ball in play should translate.

, on the other hand, supplies the power. Toronto’s No. 28 prospect towers above all other Bisons players with 14 home runs, giving him a .953 OPS on the season. Schneider is an incredible development success story as a 28th-round Draft pick who earned more playing time, and then ran with it. Playing second, third and right field, Schneider has been a favorite at every level. He’s just missing that spot on the 40-man roster, which Horwitz has.

Beyond Lopez, keep an eye on , the young star of Spring Training and Toronto's No. 6 prospect, who has been out since late April with an elbow issue. He just moved his rehab to Single-A Dunedin, though, where he went 1-for-4 with a walk Tuesday. Once he’s back in Triple-A and performing, Barger will be an extremely interesting player knocking on the door for if -- and when -- the Blue Jays need.