Blue Jays: The case for Nathan Lukes making the Opening Day roster
The Toronto Blue Jays don’t have many jobs up for grabs as Spring Training has gotten underway in Dunedin, Florida.
One of the more compelling open competitions is that of the fourth outfielder, which appears to be a wide-open battle between Nathan Lukes, Wynton Bernard, Otto Lopez, and upstart prospect Addison Barger.
While any of those players could grab the final roster spot available, and it’s too early for anyone to have created much separation, Lukes could finally find himself on a big-league roster after seven years in the minors.
Nathan Lukes: The time is now
Nathan Lukes, at 28 years of age, is older than some Jays fans may realize, and he’s coming off his most productive season, at the highest level of the minors there is.
He’s coming off a season in which he hit .285 with 11 homers, 61 RBI, and a .789 OPS, and stole 20 bases while being caught just three times.
Lukes is a left-handed batter with good power, above-average speed, and the ability to cover ample ground defensively. It’s also very possible that he’s developed as much as he’s going to in the minor leagues and that he’s ready for the challenge of playing in the majors.
While he hasn’t lit the Grapefruit circuit on fire yet with just three hits in 10 at-bats in the first week's worth of games, Lukes did make a long run for a nice sliding catch in the spring opener and narrowly missed a home run, settling for a double off the wall in his first at-bat against Detroit on Saturday.
His inclusion on the Opening Day roster would give the Blue Jays five lefty bats out of 13 position players, a good balance compared to last year which was often two or fewer. He’s also a more mature, seasoned prospect, one who would be happy to get coaching points from not only Guillermo Martinez but from veterans like George Springer or Kevin Kiermaier.
One thing is for sure: if Lukes does indeed break camp with the big club, he will have earned his spot. It’ll take another few weeks of solid play to earn that place, but even if he doesn’t make the team at first, Lukes will be in the mix to be an early call-up depending on how the season progresses. The coaching staff may decide to go with the right-handed batting Bernard, who has a long history in the minor leagues, or Lopez, who has the added value of being able to play some infield. Either way, watching that trio, along with the muscle-bound Barger, will be must-see tv for the rest of spring training.