As someone who has followed Vladimir Guerrero Jr since he signed with the Blue Jays in July of 2015, I’ve been on board his bandwagon since Day One. He was my #10 Blue Jays prospect before he had ever played a game, and a year later, he was at the top of the list.
And after a stellar 2017, where he dominated Pitchers at Low and High A as an 18-year-old, he’s solidly cemented that status.
Guerrero is the most impressive hitter to come through the Blue Jays system since Carlos Delgado. Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees the signing and initial development of international prospects, says Guerrero shows incredible strike zone judgement for someone his age:
(It’s) the overall plate discipline…..not only does he control the strike zone, but to control it and do damage at his age…..that’s really hard to find.
The stocky Guerrero has the ability to recognize pitches that is uncanny:
Ben, the word from his teammates is that he recognizes right out of the pitcher’s hand what the pitch is and where it will end up. (He would shout “No” immediately if he knew it was a ball.)
— Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (@jgoldstrass) March 8, 2018
Couple that with a lightning-quick swing and a huge lower half that allows him to generate tremendous torque, and you have the makings of a generational impact bat. Minor league stats can be so misleading, but there are so many to choose from in Guerrero’s case that they bear repeating:
-a MiLB-leading .425 OBP in 2017;
-a .944 OPS at High A;
-107 BBs vs 97 KS over his minor league career
….and a spray chart that shows an incredible ability to use the whole field:
And after a 4-5 spring training debut performance, the obvious question is where does Guerrero go from here?
The likely answer: Manchester, NH, by way of Montreal – his birthplace, and where the Jays wrap up their spring training schedule with a pair of games against the Cards.
The Blue Jays, of course, have a pretty decent incumbent 3rd Baseman – for now – in the form of Josh Donaldson, so there is no need to rush Guerrero, who probably starts the season with AA New Hampshire of the Eastern League. But as Mark Shapiro said one sunny late October afternoon in his office at the Rogers Centre, with the indian summer sunlight dancing off the waves of Lake Ontario, if the Blue Jays were in the middle of a pennant race this summer, and if the team was in need of a bat, and if Guerrero had continued to mash at AA………..well, that’s a lot of ifs, but it could indicate that we see Guerrero sooner rather than later. But the stars and planets of the Blue Jays season would need to line up perfectly.
And if contract talks with Donaldson reach an impasse, and he’s dealt at the deadline, it likely means the Blue Jays are out of a pennant race – which would mean there’s little point in starting Guerrero’s service time clock early. So again, the chances of seeing him this year seem remote.
What does Guerrero need to work on before he reaches the Major Leagues, then? Not a lot, on the offensive side of the ball. On the defensive side, there is still work to be done. Guerrero has always showed decent instincts and a good arm at 3rd, but there is still a question about his range. When he joined the Blue Jays, Guerrero had a physique that could be modestly described as well-rounded. The thought was that with proper conditioning and nutrition, Guerrero could shed a few pounds, and experience an increase in mobility as a result. And while he’s obviously slimmed down a bit in the 20 months since he signed, Guerrero’s transformation has not been on the scale of Roberto Osuna, who changed from portly to chiseled after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Players slow down with age, and that will definitely happen in his case. No one is really talking about it, but Vladdy Jr hasn’t slimmed down as much as some thought he might. This will have implications for his ultimate defensive position.
But it will be his bat, not his glove, that propels Guerrero to the majors. At the same time, the Blue Jays will no doubt be carefully monitoring and measuring his defensive progress this season, with an eye toward his ultimate defensive destination.
There is so much to Guerrero’s game to look forward to seeing on a daily basis one day. He may not be a five-tool player like his Hall of Fame Dad, but he has better pitch recogntion, and does a number of things on the ball diamond well. Case in point – he’s stolen 23 bases in two minor league seasons. That may not speak to blazing foot speed, but it does highlight Guerrero’s impressive Baseball IQ. He knows how to pick his spots, and take advantage of a Pitcher not paying enough attention to him on the basepaths.
What does the future hold for Vladimir Guerrero Jr? Major League stardom. As for his ETA, there are several moving parts. Much will depend on what happens with the Blue Jays themselves, as well as his progress on both sides of the ball this season. Guerrero, who turns 19 later this week, has said that he wants to be in the majors by the time he’s 20. He’s pretty much on schedule.