Fringe Blue Jays infielder seems to be gaining momentum towards Opening Day roster spot

Ernie Clement may see himself in a big-league uniform come Opening Day

Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics
Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

Spring training is a time for teams to evaluate major and non-major league players and make crucial decisions for Opening Day. Although the games are exhibition games, the Blue Jays have had a fair share of exciting players take the field in hopes to land with a big-league club come April. One of these names is Ernie Clement. Clement spent the majority of his time last year with the Toronto's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, but may see himself in a Blue Jay by the time the team departs Dunedin this year.

Clement built a strong case for himself both on the major and minor league levels in 2023. In 72 games with the Bisons last year, he batted .348/.401/.544 with 11 home runs and a tremendously low 5.0 K%. He was also a force on the basepaths, stealing 12 bags in AAA and having a sprint speed grade out in the 76th percentile. And although he had a smaller sample size north of the border, Clement performed just as well, once again batting over .300 with a .500 slugging percentage, good for a 144 wRC+. Clement isn't a true talent 140 wRC+ hitter, but would be a solid bench piece. He will get hits when necessary, make contact and rarely strike out. Clement also offers defensive versatility, logging innings all around the infield and even left field.

What's really built Clement's case this year, however, has been his Spring performance. As highlighted by Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, rival teams have been keeping close tabs on Clement and have been thoroughly impressed with what they've seen. And why wouldn't they? So far in Spring Training, Clement has slashed a mighty .381/.409./.619, good for an OPS over 1.000. He has also backed this up with two home runs, both against AL East aces Corbin Burnes and Zach Eflin. Furthermore, in his 22 plate appearances, not only has Clement not struck out yet, he hasn't even whiffed!

Barring the fact he is out of minor-league options, Clement's fit on the roster is an obvious one. As it stands, Clement's current competition consists of Davis Schneider, Eduardo Escobar and Santiago Espinal. Players such as Spencer Horwitz, Daniel Vogelbach and Toronto-native Joey Votto can be omitted as they are competing for different roles, being left-handed power platoon options. Schneider seems to be lock at second base/left field after a historic start to his career last year.

As for the other two, however, Clement bests them easily. Both Escobar and Espinal had extremely poor seasons in 2023, not to mention horrendous starts in spring training. In comparison to Clement's 1.028 OPS this spring, Espinal and Escobar have batted only to a .570 and .342, respectively. Escobar is easily cut-able, as he was only signed to a minors deal with a spring training invite. While the Blue Jays may be reluctant to let go of Espinal, he still has two minor league options, only having around three years of service time. Espinal could benefit from some time in Buffalo and if Clement continues his strong start to Spring, he may easily be a strong bench piece for the Jays come April.