The Toronto Blue Jays head into the offseason with two key pieces from the 2021 campaign heading to free agency in infielder Marcus Semien and left-hander Robbie Ray. While the jury is still out on whether either player will return, this year’s free-agent class is one of the most stacked in recent memory, especially up the middle with players like Semien, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa all available this winter.
Looking at the Blue Jays current roster, if the club loses Semien and does not sign a third baseman or another veteran infielder, there are some spots up for grabs amongst the prospects who could crack the Opening Day roster if they can put together a solid Spring Training.
I feel like the Blue Jays will at least bring in a player or two, even if they miss out on the bigger prizes like Semien and Correa. With Santiago Espinal also likely getting an increased look at third base (unless a trade or a prominent free agent infielder is signed) and a healthy Cavan Biggio able to cover second base if Semien does leave, there are a few spots open on the bench for those who can impress early in the year.
One player to keep an eye on is Kevin Smith, who ranks at #10 on the Blue Jays prospect rankings and got a taste of the big leagues this season when both Espinal and Biggio were on the injured list in September.
The Toronto Blue Jays could see a few players leave this offseason via free agency, opening the door for some position prospects to make Opening Day.
Although he struggled to a .094/.194/.188 slash line and just three hits in 32 at-bats, he did get his first big league home run out of the way during the 18 games he played with the Blue Jays this year. Smith was also one of the Buffalo Bisons’ best hitters down in AAA, posting a .931 OPS with 21 home runs, 69 RBI, and 46 walks through 410 plate appearances. If the former fourth-round pick back in 2017 can swing a hot bat this spring, there is a good chance he could find himself on the Major League roster to begin the season.
Another prospect to keep an eye on is Otto Lopez, the Blue Jays #5 ranked prospect who got a very brief introduction to the big leagues earlier this year. While he mostly sat on the bench and only saw one at-bat, an eventual strikeout against the Washington Nationals, Lopez put together a solid campaign in the minor leagues, splitting time in both AA and AAA within the Blue Jays farm system.
He would finish the year with a combined .315/.379/.437 line with 32 doubles, five home runs, and 64 RBI through 451 at-bats, putting together a .816 OPS by the end of the season. One interesting thing about Lopez is that the Jays decided to expand his defensive ability this season, giving him increased reps in center field while also splitting time between shortstop and second.
Last but certainly not least is catcher Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays top-ranked prospect at the end of the 2021 campaign. While a thumb injury would see him miss a good portion of the season, Moreno spent most of his time in AA with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and was an absolute beast in the batter’s box, slashing .373/.441/.651 with eight home runs, 45 RBI, and a 1.092 OPS through 126 at-bats. He would see a brief promotion to AAA at the end of the campaign where he would go 1 for 9 in three games.
Defensively, Moreno was great behind the plate, throwing out 44% of runners and posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with zero passed balls.
While the Blue Jays are a bit crowded with catchers in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Alejandro Kirk on the roster at the moment, the front office could use one or two of them as trade bait this offseason if they so desire. It would be a bit of a long shot for Moreno to crack the Opening Day roster next season but stranger things have happened.
It’s not impossible (see Kirk jumping from A ball to MLB circa 2020), just more likely that he heads down to AAA and we see him somewhere near the middle of the season rather than at the beginning.