Left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu, now nine months out from last summer’s Tommy John surgery, is throwing from 90 to 120 feet and still aiming for a mid-July return to the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, writes Keegan Matheson of MLB.com. He’s throwing off flat ground for now but could progress to mound work by mid-April. The timeline aligns with the goal that Ryu stated back in December, but it’s positive development that he’s progressed through his spring throwing program without setbacks and hasn’t had to push that goal further down the road.
Ryu, who’ll turn 36 later this week, is entering the final season of a four-year, $80MM contract signed prior to the 2020 season. He finished third in AL Cy Young voting during the shortened ’20 campaign and gave the Jays 31 roughly average starts in 2021 before an elbow injury limited him to 27 innings and resulted in surgery last June. If he’s indeed able to return at any point midsummer, he could be a boon to a rotation that currently is hoping for rebounds from fourth and fifth starters Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. Each of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and offseason signee Chris Bassitt delivered strong results in 2022, and top prospect Ricky Tiedemann is looming as an option at some point in 2023 as well.
Turning to more immediate matters on the roster, the Blue Jays announced last night that they’ve optioned infielder Addison Barger to Triple-A, thinning the race for the team’s final bench spot in the process. Barger, a sixth-round pick in 2018, was selected to the 40-man roster back in November on the heels of a combined .308/.378/.555 showing across three minor league levels. He had a nice Grapefruit League showing, batting .294/.351/.441 in 37 trips to the plate, but the 23-year-old still has just eight regular-season games at the Triple-A level under his belt.
Barger ranks as the club’s No. 4 prospect Baseball America and landed at No. 53 on FanGraphs’ Top 100 prospect rankings heading into the 2023 season. He’s undoubtedly viewed as a key piece for the Jays in the future, but the infield already has veterans Matt Chapman, Bo Bichette and Whit Merrifield lined up from third base to second base, to say nothing of bench options like Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio in the mix for at-bats. As such, Barger will head to Buffalo and continue to get regular reps that might not be available to him at the MLB level.
With Barger out of the mix for now, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet tweets that it’s likely either infielder/outfielder Otto Lopez or outfielder Nathan Lukes will claim the team’s final bench spot. Lopez, 24, went 5-for-17 with a homer, a triple and a walk playing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic and is 7-for-15 with a double and a triple in Jays camp this spring. He’s primarily been a middle infielder in the minors but has at least 500 innings in both left field and center field in his professional career. Lukes, who has yet to make his MLB debut, is hitting .278/.342/.389 in 41 spring plate appearances and can play all three outfield spots. He’d give a righty-heavy Toronto lineup another left-handed bat, whereas Lopez is another right-handed stick.