These top prospects are closing in on the Majors

April 2nd, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- The Buffalo Bisons are built with the mix of players that organizations want to see at their Triple-A affiliate.

There are veterans who have been there and done that, from Rob Brantly to Casey Lawrence, Zach Thompson, Jay Jackson and Wynton Bernard. Then, you have the top young prospects who surround these Minor League veterans, giving the Bisons a shot at balancing winning with development.

Soon enough, the Blue Jays will need to draw from both of these talent pools. Cruel as the reality might be, Toronto’s healthy spring won’t last forever, and there will inevitably be performance issues that lead to a swap.

Here’s a look at the Top 30 prospects on Buffalo’s roster who are next in line, and what you can expect from each in 2023:

3. RHP Yosver Zulueta
You’ll see plenty of the “bulk” role for Zulueta this season, which is something the Blue Jays are using strategically with many of their top arms in 2023. In these spots, Zulueta will throw something in the range of three innings, and Toronto can adjust up or down as the season goes on.

It’s difficult to overstate just how easy Zulueta’s velocity looks as the ball explodes out of his hand. He’ll need to limit walks and develop more consistency with his delivery, but if you catch Zulueta on the right day, he’s a special talent. “Zulu” has significant bullpen upside later this season, whether that be in shorter stints or in a bulk role.

6. INF Addison Barger
A star of Spring Training, Barger has already carried his momentum straight into the Triple-A season with this projected 456-foot blast Saturday. If you challenge Barger on the inside edge of the plate, you’ve got a death wish.

The Blue Jays want to see Barger get more experience in Triple-A, but he’s in a position to kick the door down. Two or three years ago, perhaps Toronto would be more patient, but the moment this club believes Barger gives it a better chance to win than someone like Cavan Biggio or Nathan Lukes, that should be an easy decision. The competition is on.

10. RHP Hayden Juenger
Juenger threw two innings Saturday, striking out three and allowing one run. His fastball sat at 94.5 mph while reaching 96 mph, and this is the type of role you can expect to see Juenger in. He has been drafted and developed as a bulk reliever and knows the job well, so he’s advanced enough at this point to be part of the competition for a bullpen spot by midseason. Without a spot on the 40-man roster, that climb may just be slightly steeper than for a Nate Pearson, for example.

14. UTIL Otto Lopez
Lopez put himself in a great spot to crack the Opening Day roster, but he was beaten out by Lukes. Granted, Lukes won’t play much early, so it’s not a bad thing for Lopez to get regular reps at priority positions in Triple-A. Lopez is a good bet to bat .300 and should be the next man up if any infielder or outfielder is injured. He deserves a longer MLB look.

18. 1B Spencer Horwitz
Horwitz has one of the organization’s best plate approaches and selects pitches very well, so he’s a good bet to produce this season at Triple-A. A wrist issue muffled his numbers there last season, but when he’s in a groove, Horwitz is still a career .290 hitter in the Minors with a .389 on-base percentage.

Some added power would really help Horwitz’s ceiling after he hit 12 home runs in 114 games last season, but for now, he’s a steady depth piece and a development success story after being selected in the 24th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. His outfield defense needs work, but if the Blue Jays ran into an injury or two at first base, Horwitz’s approach would translate to the big leagues.

28. 2B/OF Davis Schneider
Schneider’s story is one that player development people love to see. Described by several people as a “fan favorite,” Schneider is a former 28th-rounder who has climbed the ladder in a unique way, so often taking whatever playing time was left after the top prospects got theirs.

Built strong, Schneider has some pop and will see most of his time at second base and left field. Schneider isn’t on the cusp of MLB just yet, but there’s a path like Vinny Capra’s to follow here if Schneider keeps producing, and that’s all he has done when given opportunities.