MLB spring training is right around the corner, with the Toronto Blue Jays playing their first exhibition game on Feb. 25.
For veteran players, the spring season is about revving up the ol’ engine, getting into a routine, and working back to game speed. For unproven guys or prospects, spring camp is all about opportunity.
This is where fans can jump in and enjoy the ride. Even if they don’t always make the team, young prospects can make a mighty impression during the Grapefruit League season – think back to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s epic walk-off homer in 2018 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
This year, the Blue Jays extended several non-roster invites to 2023 spring training. I’ve combed the list, and here are the players who stand out most to me.
Ricky Tiedemann: LHP
The Blue Jays’ consensus top prospect, Tiedemann blazed through the minor-league ranks in his first pro season. Now, he’ll get some much-deserved looks at major-league camp.
The 20-year-old dominated at every level last year, pitching to a 2.17 ERA with a 13.4 K/9 in 78.2 innings and getting as high as double-A (which is likely where he will begin 2023). This year at spring training, Tiedemann will get exposed to the major-league atmosphere, and he’ll have a chance to toss against top-tier competition.
The lefty never backs down from a challenge, and my gut tells me he’ll use his fastball-changeup combo to shove on the mound in limited work. Like Alek Manoah, who diced the heart of the New York Yankees order in a spring start two years ago, Tiedemann will get a shot to dazzle in a Jays uniform, even if it’s just for a short while.
Zach Britton: C/OF
Britton is another intriguing prospect to keep an eye on during spring training. The 24-year-old began his career as a catcher but is being transitioned to an outfielder. Truth be told, his position doesn’t matter because his bat is his No. 1 tool.
A left-handed hitter out of Louisville, Britton made significant strides in his second pro season, bumping up his power numbers and vastly improving his plate discipline. In 76 plate appearances in double-A, the former fifth-round pick slashed .234/.355/.453 (not bad) with 12 walks (a 15.8% BB rate) and 17 strikeouts (slightly below average at a 22.4% K rate).
Britton has a beautiful swing and uses his whole body to get into the ball. He found plenty of success in the Arizona Fall League (.404/.482/.575 in 56 plate appearances), which put his stock higher than it’s ever been. It’ll be fun to watch how his on-base/power profile plays against major-league pitching.
Wynton Bernard: OF
Bernard, a lifelong minor-leaguer, made his major-league debut in 2022 with the Colorado Rockies at the ripe age of 32. Toronto signed Bernard to a minor-league deal in January with an invitation to spring training because he possesses an elite tool.
Speed, speed, speed – that’s Bernard’s greatest asset. The Niagara University alum stole 30 bags on 35 attempts in triple-A last year while also, remarkably, clubbing 21 home runs. If a hint of that power-speed blend plays at the major-league level, Bernard could be an important bench piece for the Jays this year.
There’s a route to playing time for him, too, as his 1.017 OPS versus left-handed pitching last season in the minors suggests he can mash as a platoon player. With several left-handed-hitting outfielders (Daulton Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier) penciled into starting roles, Bernard could sneak up the depth chart.
Nathan Lukes: OF
Lukes is technically already rostered (he’s on the 40-man), which gives him an automatic invite to spring training. Still, the 28-year-old is one to watch during Grapefruit League play.
He was solid at the dish last season in triple-A, slashing .285/.364/.425 while playing all three outfield positions. He was mentioned by general manager Ross Atkins as a candidate to help at the major-league level, but, surprisingly, the call never came.
Lukes, a left-handed hitter, has a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster in 2023. Toronto needs a bench outfielder beyond Cavan Biggio (a natural infielder), and Lukes’ penchant for contact and getting on base could make him the perfect fit. He’ll battle other role players like Bernard, for example, but if the season began today, I imagine Lukes would be the 26th man on the roster.
Brandon Eisert: LHP
Eisert isn’t a household name, but he’s an underrated reliever who could handle multiple roles in the Blue Jays’ bullpen in 2023.
In 2022, the 25-year-old struck out 77 batters in 60.2 innings (11.4 K/9) in triple-A. He mowed down left-handed hitters (.569 OPS) and consistently pitched more than one inning of relief at a time. Eisert’s mechanics aren’t too funky, but he hides the ball well and has a relaxed delivery. He’s a guy I’ll be watching closely at spring camp this year, as he has all the makings of a perfect MLB swingman.
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