Competition ramps up for Blue Jays' final roster spot

March 3rd, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are working through a camp that’s largely without competition, except for the 26th spot on the roster.

While has the inside track for the fifth job in the rotation, Toronto can still go in a variety of directions with the final spot on its bench. On a roster stacked with talent at the top, this role is all about filling in the gaps at the bottom.

“It’s little things,” said manager John Schneider prior to Friday’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Rays. “Defense, versatility, baserunning, quality of at-bats and stuff like that. It’s unique to where we’re going to have some good players on the bench every night.”

The depth of talent and versatility already on this roster make it a unique competition, though. On any given night, the bench will have the backup catcher. Between , , and the outfielders -- depending on who’s on the mound -- the Blue Jays will get two more on the bench most days. This brings us to the fourth spot.

Here’s a look at the factors, and players, to consider:

The case against a third catcher

has earned widespread praise through camp, but this doesn’t feel like a roster that will carry a third catcher much, if at all. With set to handle the majority of DH reps, you’ll see and used less in that spot.

Then, there’s . While the Blue Jays don’t plan to use Varsho at catcher, he would be in line as the “emergency” backstop if there was an in-game injury.

No “need” for a utility man

Most years, this is an easier conversation. With that final spot on the roster, find a utility man who can play four or five positions and lock it in. The Blue Jays don’t need that, though.

Biggio will split time between the infield and outfield. The same goes for Merrifield and Espinal, who will share second-base duties, but otherwise play all over.

“Between the three of them, they kind of cover everything,” Schneider said, suggesting Merrifield will see the time in left field with Biggio getting reps in right when needed.

If the 26th man on the roster has some versatility, that’s still a bonus, but that factor won’t be weighted as heavily as it might be on some clubs.


Toronto’s No. 14 prospect was added to the MLB roster several times in 2021 and '22, but he rarely played. It’s nearing the time that changes.

Lopez has played second, third, shortstop and the outfield through the Minor Leagues, and he's expected to play shortstop for Team Canada at the upcoming World Baseball Classic. That adds some value, of course, but the main appeal of Lopez comes from his ability to hit for contact and run.

A career .305 hitter in the Minor Leagues, Lopez’s bat-to-ball skill makes him a safer bet to jump off the bench after a few days off and still put together quality at-bats. That’s not an easy assignment for a 24-year-old, but when you combine that with a speed that would rank among the best on this roster, it’s an awfully appealing profile to have at the end of a bench.

OF Nathan Lukes
The 28-year-old Lukes has earned his spot in this conversation with a couple of productive years at Triple-A, including a .285 average and .789 OPS with the Bisons last season. Like Lopez, he’s also on the 40-man roster, which makes the logistics easier.

Lukes plays all three outfield spots and bats left-handed, so if it doesn’t happen to start the season, he’s a good bet to get a shot at some point in 2023.

SS/3B/OF Addison Barger
Barger skyrocketed up MLB Pipeline's Top 30 prospect rankings to No. 6 this spring. Climbing three levels from High-A to Triple-A last season, Barger hit .308 with 26 home runs and a .933 OPS, all while showing one of the system's best arms from the left side.

He’s adding the outfield to his plate this spring, too, which is important. Barger has a ceiling to dream on if his aggressive swing works at the next level, and there’s even more power to uncover. Given that he played just eight games in Triple-A last season, Barger is likely headed back there, but he’ll have every opportunity to kick the door down.

Others to consider: OF Wynton Bernard, C , INF , 1B Spencer Horwitz