The Blue Jays' 26th roster spot continues to be a black hole for playing time

Recently, the Blue Jays have had cases of players on the big league roster that do not have a definitive role or clear path to playing time.
Daniel Vogelbach, designated hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays, is off to a slow start in his limited at-bats to begin the year.
Daniel Vogelbach, designated hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays, is off to a slow start in his limited at-bats to begin the year. / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

Blue Jays fans spent the year salivating at the different ways the team could utilize an extra roster spot, after the MLB and the MLBPA agreed to expand rosters to 26 players for the start of the 2020 season.

Would it open up the managers ability to play more matchups? Will there be more opportunities for a speedster who excels with late inning steals and defensive replacements? How often will clubs like the Jays run with three catchers?

With the decision finalized in 2019, the pandemic made the situation very murky at first. By the time the calendar flipped to 2022, not every team had been able to facilitate the dream scenario of a perfect 26th man.

Some front offices have found much more use out of the extra spot than others. Specifically, the Blue Jays have yet to hone in on a good fit for a fourth bench piece.

The industry standard Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, in 2022 and 2023, had four players sitting on their bench that all contributed to their pair of 100 win seasons. Everyone on the roster had a role, but most importantly, a pathway to regular or semi-regular playing time.

Most notably re-acquired in July of 2023, Kiké Hernández was their ultimate fourth bench player. He wound up playing every position but pitcher and catcher, while slashing .262/.308/.423 in 185 plate appearances with the Dodgers.

But in Toronto things have gone differently. The Blue Jays have recently had two cases, and a third in development, of players dwindling away eating a roster spot, that do not have a definitive role or clear path to playing time.

Daniel Vogelbach currently holds down the 26th spot on this year's edition of the Jays, a spot occupied by Nathan Lukes for a few months in 2023, and Bradley Zimmer for a lot of 2022.

While Vogelbach has been clogging the last roster spot for the start of this year, he has only appeared in 16 games with just 40 plate appearances, with just the one RBI to show for at the plate. A tough stretch to start the year for a designated hitter signed to come in and slug against right-handed pitching. He finally broke through with an RBI single to tie the game early in Baltimore on Monday night.

Lukes was around for a few extended stints as the fourth bench piece, but only got into 29 contests with just 31 plate appearances. If it had not been for Davis Schnieder’s late storybook emergence, an entire year of a wasted roster spot was on the horizon.

Another perhaps less extreme case from 2022 was Bradley Zimmer. He at least was able off the bench for sound defense, but the speedster only stole three bases, once as a pinch runner, and batted a horrid .101/.200/.213 across 101 plate appearances.

There aren't exactly many internal options that fit a clubs dream ideas to fill this roster spot, but a player that would fill more of a role than Vogelbach could be Spencer Horwitz. He is primarily a first-baseman but has recently made starts at second for Triple-A Buffalo. 

The problem is he is Jays Journal’s No. 17 ranked prospect, raking at .333/.456/.486, and would gain nothing from coming to the big leagues and not at least get semi-regular at-bats. 

Joey Votto has begun ramping up baseball activities, the club may opt to try him out in hopes he is a more reliable pinch-hitting option than Vogelbach has been, with three strikeouts and no hits in that role so far this season over eight attempts.

It's becoming increasingly more likely Vogelbach will be designated for assignment once the sickness seemingly making its way throughout the clubhouse dissipates. The question remains who will fill the spot, and will they be able to find ways to help this Blue Jays club turn things around.