2023-03-30 · 3 min read · MLB/Baseball
Alek Manoah, #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images | The Globe and Mail

With Opening Day kicking off in just a matter of hours, it’s now go-time for the high-flying Blue Jays as they kick off their 2023 season with a little bit of Interleague play - a three game series against the offensively gifted St. Louis Cardinals. Alek Manoah will be toeing the rubber in Toronto’s first official game, opposite Cards’ newly-resigned Miles Mikolas. But who’s surrounding the first-time Opening Day Toronto starter? Let's take a look…
  • Alek Manoah
  • Kevin Gausman
  • Chris Bassitt
  • Jose Berrios
  • Yusei Kikuchi (LHP)
  • Jordan Romano
  • Erik Swanson
  • Tim Mayza (LHP)
  • Anthony Bass
  • Yimi Garcia
  • Trevor Richards
  • Adam Cimber
  • Zach Pop
  • Alejandro Kirk
  • Danny Jansen
  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
  • Brandon Belt
  • Whit Merrifield
  • Santiago Espinal
  • Cavan Biggio
  • Bo Bichette
  • Matt Chapman
  • Daulton Varsho
  • George Springer
  • Kevin Kiermaier
  • Nathan Lukes
Opening up with the starters, this was all but guaranteed when Mitch White went down with injury. Four out of the five were guaranteed, with Kikuchi’s stellar spring training allowing him to lock down the fifth spot. In hindsight, minimal competition allowed the freshly-bearded Toronto lefty to make the rotation - for now. Promising as he may be, there will always be eyes on Yusei Kikuchi awaiting his first less-than-great start after the type of run he had when he was a part of the staff last year.
In terms of relievers, there is not too much that should surprise folks. Jay Jackson had a terrific spring, didn’t make the roster, and was let go - perhaps a surprising move, though he quickly re-signed a split deal with the Jays and will open the season pitching out of Buffalo’s bullpen. Hard-throwing righties Nate Pearson and Yosver Zulueta will also begin in AAA, alongside lefty Paul Fry and both Julian and Junior Fernandez. Zach Thompson, who originally appeared to be a long-man favourite for the club, was optioned to the Bisons in the recent days as well as 2015 Opening Day starter Drew Hutchison, infamous fringe starters Trent Thornton, Thomas Hatch, and Casey Lawrence, middle-relievers Matt Peacock and Brandon Eisert, veteran Luke Bard, Bowden Francis, and Hayden Juenger. Overall, one of the best AAA staffs on paper - and thus, one of the best groups of depth the Blue Jays have had in quite a while.
The only noticeable absence in terms of Infielders is Otto Lopez, who absolutely smashed the ball in both Spring Training and the WBC. Likely for the purpose of allowing him to consistently get at-bats, the expectation is Lopez will be up at some point this year with the big-league club - whether it be an injury replacement or if he continues to rake at AAA. Although Addison Barger looked mighty good during the past month, there was never a real opportunity for him to immediately jump to the MLB - he’ll begin in AAA, similarly to Lopez in an effort to play everyday.
In what essentially came down to a battle for the 26th roster spot between Nathan Lukes and the aforementioned Otto Lopez, Lukes - after an impressive performance during March - won the role, and will dawn a Major League uniform for the first time at age 28. An outstanding 2022 Spring Training left many wondering if he should have been added to the active roster a year ago, but the lefty bat will finally get his chance after winning the Buffalo Bisons’ MVP Award for his performance last season. Wynton Bernard and Vinny Capra, both of which grew somewhat of a fan club this spring, were optioned to AAA alongside Cam Eden and Rafael Lantigua. Varsho, Kiermaier, and Springer were all guaranteed to make the roster - no surprises there.
In other news, recently-signed Ernie Clement - who played with both the Athletics and Guardians last year - will report to Buffalo. Catchers Stevie Berman, Rob Brantly, and Jamie Ritchie will begin the year with the Bisons, while youngsters LJ Talley, Davis Schneider, and Tanner Morris will join a potent Bisons lineup. WBC-goer Spencer Horowitz (Israel) rounds out the AAA roster.
With Game 1 today, the climb towards not just the playoffs - but playoff success - begins. First pitch flies at 4:10pm EST in Missouri, with Sportsnet and FAN590 broadcasting the game on TV and radio, respectively.
Tune in next Wednesday as we take a look at Toronto’s expectations for this highly-anticipated 2023 season!
Sports Tree Profile

By: Gus Cousins


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