Vlad and Bo Will be All Right in AA

TSN’s Scott Mitchell suggests that top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette will face challenges at AA this year, after President/CEO Mark Shapiro confirmed the pair will begin their 2018 season there.

The rise of the bash twins is quite remarkable.  Both are entering only their third year of pro ball, but are on the cusp of major league stardom.  Guerrero, the top-ranked international free agent bat in 2015, acquitted himself well in rookie ball the following year, then burst out in 2017, along with 2016 2nd rounder Bichette, who followed the same meteoric rise.

Both had spent only a half season at High A after mashing their way from Lansing last year, and there was some thought that they might begin the season back with the Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays for at least another half before moving up.  The Blue Jays have proven to be conservative in the advancement of their prospects, having them spend a full year (whether it be over one or two calendar years) at each full-season level.  In reality, both have little left to prove at High A, and their ascension to AA makes considerable sense.

TSN’s Scott Mitchell suggests AA will be a challenge for the duo because:

That’s where the Pitching becomes more advanced….a lot of top prospects come straight up to the majors from AA.

Mitchell may be simplifying things a bit.  The jump from A ball to AA has been described as the biggest transition in the minors.  Minor league baseball is like a giant colander, and players who get by on the basis of their physical talents alone tend not to pass through it to the higher levels.  In AA, players tend to have a plan – for Pitchers, it’s in the form of advanced secondary pitches, for example, or for hitters, it’s the ability to have make adjustments with their approach.  Below AA, rosters tend to have a lot of “org players” – roster fillers with 86 mph fastballs, or good field/no hit position players.  AA is where weaknesses are exposed – Pitchers with inconsistent command, and hitters with holes in their swing.  All teams have two affiliates in A ball, but only one at AA – rosters at that level have been culled considerably, and players who do well there have a shot at MLB.

Why will Bichette and Guerrero be successful at that level?  3 reasons

  1.  Both have approaches that should allow them to continue to hit; Bichette uses the whole field and cuts his swing down with two strikes, while Guerrero doesn’t just control the strike zone as much as he manages it, choosing pitches to barrel almost at will.
  2.  The “windshield” effect:  Ross Atkins spoke about this in the off-season, when discussing how blood lines are something the Blue Jays consider when scouting an amateur player.  Because both players grew up in an MLB environment, they don’t tend to get intimidated as easily as other players do.  Judging by their performance this spring training, not much fazes either of them.
  3. Their record vs top prospects:   Bichette has hit .345/.382/.558 vs Top 20 Pitching prospects from other organizations, Guerrero .279/.388/.471.  Both have had over 100 PAs against elite competition, and their numbers suggest future success.

This is not necessarily to say that Bichette and Guerrero will post numbers similar to what they did at Lansing and Dunedin this year, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that they will continue to square up pitches on a consistent basis.  And if they go through a bit of adversity, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because almost every MLBer has gone through it in their minor league career at some point.  Learning to deal with it is part of a player’s development.

Both players may still have some work to do defensively, but it’s looking more and more that one or both will be in the majors almost before we know it.

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