An Open Letter to Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins

Dear Mark and Ross:

Hi Guys.  Loved Jaysfest this winter.

Look, you both know it, I know it, and even the bandwagon fans on Facebook know it.  This season had considerable promise and started well, but with the starting rotation in shambles and the bullpen already showing the signs of overuse and this season about to become as disappointing as grocery store sushi, it’s time.

Time to make plans to break up the American League’s oldest roster, a group you knew last year was getting past the point of being able to realistically compete for a post-season berth.  But the higher-ups at Rogers wouldn’t let you take a wrecking ball to it, because they liked the sounds of the cash register ringing.

Even though you both have been on the job for only a couple of years, you’ve built an organization that is poised to become a leader in analytics, scouting, sport science, and minor league instruction.  You quickly understood that the key to long-term competitiveness for this franchise lay in its ability to unearth diamonds in the rough in the form of amateur players both through the draft and IFA markets, and use your system to give them the polish they need.

Mark, you spoke in the off-season about developing waves of prospects to come in an compete for MLB jobs.  The first of them is almost ready.  The best prospect in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, is part of that group, which includes Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, and Anthony Alford.  You certainly could make the argument that more development time is warranted for all four, but you could counter that by suggesting that if the roster is torn down to make room for them, that development could continue at the MLB level. We know all about the risk of failure that can come with accelerating players too quickly, but the Nationals decided to move top prospect Juan Soto (who is all of six months older than Vladdy) to AAA after (check that – he’s been promoted to the bigs) only 32 AA At Bats.  Granted, Jr has some more defensive development to complete before he graduates, and top pitching prospects still give him a bit of trouble, but move him up to Buffalo already.  If he succeeds there an and opening on the big league roster becomes available by, say, July 31st, bring him on up.  Who knows where any of us will be in six years – and it’s hard to see you sticking around that long if you have to keep banging heads with the suits upstairs.

After the first wave has established itself in a year or so, the next wave, with talent like Bo Bichette (who’s struggling for the first time in his pro career this year, but that’s ok – better to learn to deal with it in AA), Sean Reid-Foley,  and Cavan Biggio might be ready, and you could throw in Jordan Romano, too.  Behind them, you’ve got a collection that includes Nate Pearson, Logan Warmoth, Yennsy Diaz, and Kevin Smith, and farther down the road, Eric Pardinho, Miguel Hiraldo, and this year’s top draft choice -hopefully, another arm –  (and a possibly even better one next year) and IFAs.  Players dealt to make room on the MLB roster should be exchanged for more prospect depth.

It’s time to put a bow on this season and write it off, rather than continuing to apply duct tape to your broken roster.  The execs at Rogers are no doubt worried that time in baseball’s wilderness will plunge the team back into the bottom third of AL attendance figures, and that is a concern.  It’s bad enough that they seem to keep putting off badly needed renos to the Rogers Centre, but they should give you both a broad brush to undertake the makeover of the 25-man roster.  Yes, attendance will dip, but if/when Vlad is added to the 40 (part of a bigger set of roster decisions) and promoted, that should help stem the slide at the gates.  Yes, this team spent almost two decades wandering through the baseball wilderness before 2015, but you guys are putting together an organization that is becoming one of the top ones in baseball in terms of development.  Your time in the basement shouldn’t be long.

You have some decisions to make (although some of them are pretty obvious), but space needs to be made.  It won’t be easy, but it’s time.    And has they proved three years ago, the fans will come back.

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Blue Jays MLB Draft Update

With the MLB draft less than a month away, Crosscheckers and Scouting Directors are criss-crossing the country, getting more detailed looks at players recommended by Area Scouts.

Auburn’s Casey Mize has had a dazzling spring, and while he’s not the consensus #1 pick, he should be headed to the Tigers.

With their first pick at #12, the Blue Jays have been linked to several players.  Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline has South Florida LHP Shane McClanahan going to Toronto with that choice.  McClanahan was viewed earlier this spring as a possible first overall pick, but his stock has dipped to due to command problems.  A 2016 Tommy John patient, McClanahan has added strength during his collegiate career, and has lit up radar guns across the south, hitting 100, and sitting 92-98 with movement.  McClanahan throws a change which projects as a plus pitch, and a slider that is inconsistent.  He’s fanned an impressive 15.1/9 this year, but has also walked 5.3/9.  The development of that third pitch will determine whether his future lies in a starting rotation or a bullpen.

Baseball America published their latest mock draft yesterday, and they have the Blue Jays taking South Alabama OF Travis Swaggerty.  Scouting Director Steve Sanders was on hand to watch Swaggery recently.  BA describes him as having five tools, and he’s put together a proven track record in the Sun Belt Conference.  Swaggerty is also young for his draft class (he won’t turn 21 until August), which the Blue Jays put a premium on as an indicator of the likelihood of future success .

ESPN’s Keith Law has the Blue Jays selecting Stetson RHP Logan Gilbert.  Long and lanky with a bowling ball fastball that has heavy sinking action, Gilbert is Nate Pearson-sized, who is described as athletic, with clean mechanics.  Mississippi LHP Ryan Rolison has had an inconsistent spring, but is still seem by some as one of the top southpaws in the draft.

The Blue Jays have been linked to a couple of high schoolers with their first pick.  Florida  OF Connor Scott, Georgia RHP Ethan Hankins (who was viewed as a possible 1-1 pick before a minor shoulder issue intervened earlier this spring), Arizona 3B Nolan Gorman, and from their backyard, Mississauga’s Noah Naylor, whose stock has risen this spring have all been linked at one time or another to Toronto.  Naylor certainly has the bloodlines, but if past history is any indication, the Blue Jays will shy away from all of these players with their first pick.  Five of their first six selections (and 13 of their first 14) were college players, and that as much as anything indicates that they’ll lean in that direction.

 

Is It Time to Be Concerned About Bo?

An 0-4 in the first game of New Hampshire’s doubleheader with the Nationals’ Harrisburg affiliate yesterday dropped Bo Bichette’s average for the season to .264.  He struck out 3 times (fanning 6 times in 14 ABs in the series against the Senators), and is hitting .194 over his last 10 games.

After leading the minor leagues in hitting last summer as he rocketed his way up the top prospect rankings, this is the first prolonged slump of his young career.  Scouts were lukewarm about his brother Dante’s long-term prospects even though he too tore up short season ball when he first turned pro, and his career stalled at AA, and he’s now playing independent ball.  Bo may not plateau at that level, but is it time to be a little bit concerned after he struck out three times yesterday?

From a stats perspective, there are some reasons to be concerned.  Bichette’s 20.6% K rate is the highest of his career, as his GB rate of 45.2%, which suggests some swing-and-miss, as well as some weak contact.

From a scouting viewpoint, Bichette seems to be more aggressive this year than he was last.  He’s swinging at a lot of pitches early in the count, and is finding himself in pitcher’s counts more often than not.  Few hitters will produce sparkling numbers in that situation, and Bo is no exception, producing a .193/.193/.333 line.  What’s more concerning is that he’s been in behind-the-count situations almost twice as often as he’s been ahead, although it bears pointing out that his 11% walk rate is above his career average.

When he swings, Bichette seems to be just missing the barrel lately.  His 3rd AB yesterday was a microcosm of his past 10 games.  Hunting a first pitch fastball, Bichette took a mighty hack at an elevated pitch and fouled it back to the screen.  The next pitch was a hanging breaking ball on the outer half, with the same result.  The 3rd pitch in the sequence as a fastball down and in that resulted in another foul, while he laid off the 4th, a breaking pitch in the dirt. Another breaking ball up in the zone had him out in front, and he took a huge rip but missed – somewhat surprising, because Bichette is well-known for his ability to cut down on his swing with two strikes.

Should we be concerned, or is this just a dry spell that he’ll eventually break out of?  History suggests the latter – he did put together a 9 and a 10 game hitting streak in April, a month in which Bichette hit .292/.364/.427.  Evaluators passing through the northeast have all commented on his vastly upgraded defence.  Bichette is showing the requisite footwork, hands, arm strength, and ability to make the double play pivot of a Major League Short Stop.  With fellow prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr receiving national attention, is Bichette maybe pressing a bit much?  That’s a tough question to answer, but it does appear from his approach that he’s not as patient at the plate as he has been in the past.  This may just be a stretch of adversity that it seems like most minor leaguers go through – the successful ones learn how to adjust.  Past performance suggests that Bichette will.

Dillon Fans 10 in First AAA Start

The Buffalo Bisons pitching staff has been beset by major league call-ups, which meant that RHP Justin Dillon, a 10th round pick last June recently promoted from Dunedin, was pressed into duty as a starter yesterday.

Dillon is described as a “big bodied finesse Pitcher (6’3″/225),” who fell to the Blue Jays in the draft after missing much of his junior college season with a groin injury.  Dillon did lead Sacramento State to the WAC title in 2017, and was the team’s ace (as a senior, he had little bargaining power, and the Blue Jays signed him to a $5K bonus).  He showed enough at Vancouver last year (10.96 K/9 vs 1.57 BB/9) to merit a skip to High A this year.  Called up earlier in the week to Buffalo, he had one relief appearance before taking the mound against the Phillies’ Lehigh Valley affiliate.

Over 6 innings (a career high), Dillon fanned 10 Ironpigs, allowing only 3 hits and an unearned run.  Pitching from the stretch, Dillon had pinpoint control, moving the ball around the strike zone in response to Catcher Danny Jansen’s target.  Owner of a four-pitch mix, Dillon does not over power hitters and lacks a true out pitch, but relies on sequencing and location to throw hitters off.  He can elevate his fastball with two strikes to gets swings and misses.  The Bisons couldn’t muster any offence (the team has not scored in 22 innings), and an error in the bottom of the sixth by 1B Jason Leblebijian brought in the game’s sole run, and tagged Dillon with the Loss.

Dillon filled up the strike zone on this night throwing 60 of 82 pitches for strikes.  He induced 5 ground ball outs, against 3 by the fly ball.  It was an impressive performance, and will no doubt earn him another turn in the Bisons’ rotation.

Blue Jays, Bisons Renew PDC

The Blue Jays and their AAA affiliate Buffalo announced a two-year renewal of their Player Development Contract earlier this week.

The Bisons have been a Toronto affiliate since 2013, and the partnership has proven very successful.  Buffalo has a lengthy baseball history dating back to 1877.  Forbes listed the Bisons as the 15th most valuable minor league franchise in a 2016 listing.

There is a list of items both sides want from a succesful affiliation.  For the MLB team, it’s a place for the appropriate development of their players, which would extend beyond the stadium itself, and include training facilities, as well as space for visiting team officials.  For the affiliate, a steady supply of prospects that makes the team interesting (if not always in contention) for the fans is the primary requirement.

In the case of this relationship, the proximity of Buffalo to Toronto has had some distinct added advantages.  With only a 90-minute drive (give or take, depending on the Gardiner) between the two cities, players can be summoned quickly when the Blue Jays are at home.  The close distance also helps to further grow the brand of both teams.

In an email, Blue Jays VP Ben Cherington, who oversees the club’s minor league operations, said:

   We’re excited to extend the relationship.  Aside from the obvious geographic advantages, what resonates with me about Buffalo is just how the team means to the people who own the team, work for the team, and root for the team.  People from Buffalo are proud to be from there, and proud of all things that come from Buffalo – including the Bisons.  That creates an environment that aligns with ours….people care about the team and the team’s performance. ……we like the idea of our AAA players playing in that sort of environment as the last step toward the Major Leagues.

PDC’s come up for renewal every other year in even years.  Two is the usual number of years that they are renewed for, although the Blue Jays extended their agreement with the Northwest League’s Vancouver Canadians to 2022 a few months ago.  The only other PDC that expires at the end of the year in the organization is with Bluefield of the Appalachian League, although the expectation is that will be renewed as well.

 

Short Stop Becoming A Blue Jays Position of Strength

Warmoth
Logan Warmoth – Clutchlings Photo

Last year, with the emergence of Danny Jansen, the acquisition at the previous year’s trade deadline of Reese McGuire, and the drafting of Hagen Danner and Riley Adams, Catching became the deepest position in the Blue Jays organization.

This year, the team has built on that depth at Short Stop.

Leading the way is Bo Bichette, who lead the minors in hitting last year, flirting with .400 in early June.  This year at AA, Bichette has been challenged by the higher level pitching for the first time in his pro career.  Still, he’s hit safely in 23 of the 27 games he’s appeared in, and while he’s yet to Homer this season, Bichette has started to tap into his power with 12 extra base hits.  In addition, Bichette has taken great strides to quell concerns about his defence, with most evaluators this year agreeing that he has the skills to play Major League SS.  Bichette was ranked the Midwest League’s #3 prospect, and the Florida State League’s #2 prospect after a whirlwind 2017, and shows all the tools of a future MLBer.

Behind Bichette is a growing wealth of talent.

Logan Warmoth was Toronto’s 1st round pick in last June’s draft, and he had a solid pro debut, leading Vancouver to the Northwest League title,  being named the loop’s 6th-best prospect in the process.  Skipped over Lansing to High A Dunedin this year, Warmoth had his struggles at first, but is hitting .275 over his last 10, and making a lot of hard contact according to reports.  Warmoth does not have one overwhelming tool, but does a lot of things well.  Like Bichette, there were initial concerns about his long-term prospects at SS, but he’s shown the range, footwork, and arm strength to handle the position.

Kevin Smith has been in Warmoth’s shadow since being taken in the 4th round last year.  Normally, a college draftee chosen that high would start at Vancouver, but with Warmoth there, Smith was sent to Bluefield to start his pro career.  A glove-first player for much of his college career, Smith showed glimpses of a bat that was still developing, with his power ranked ahead of his hitting ability.  Sent to Lansing this season, Smith has shown every indication that his bat has caught up to projections – Smith has posted a line of .370/.417/.639, and is hitting .459 over his last 10 games.  With the presence of Kevin Vicuna at Lansing, Smith has split time between SS and 3B, but there is little doubt about his skills on the defensive side of the ball.  Smith has plus hands and a strong arm.

Vicuna was labelled a glove-first player when the Blue Jays signed him as an IFA in 2014.  His bat had progressed enough to be sent to Dunedin to fill in for a month last spring before he was sent to Vancouver, where he was named the Northwest League’s 19th prospect.  There is no doubt about his defence, but Vicuna’s bat has shone at Lansing this year, hitting .308/.325/.375.  Vicuna goes up to the plate looking to swing, drawing only a pair of walks so far.  His glove is what will move him up in the organization, but he’s not proving to be an easy out.

Two international players also add to the team’s depth:

-Dominican Miguel Hiraldo was ranked the top bat in last year’s IFA class.  He profiles long-term at 3B, but the Blue Jays wil have him start his career at Short.

-Panamanian Leo Jimenez, who Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish is incredibly high on:

 (He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – he really has lead-off or #2 hole potential….if you asked me right now who has a chance to play SS in your system, Leo would be at the top of that list.  The way the body moves, the way the arm works, the instincts, he’s a really good, future upside defender.

In addition, the Blue Jays have been strongly linked to Orelvis Martinez of the D.R. Martinez is ranked the top IFA SS in this year’s class, and may command the highest bonus.

Not all of these players will one day patrol the infield at the Rogers Centre, but the depth gives the team plenty of options and flexibility in the future.  Some could be developed into utility players, while others could be used in trades to bolster the organization’s depth at other positions.  The organization has done a good job stockpiling a supply of athletic players at Short Stop.

Pearson Hit by Line Drive in 2018 Debut

Well, that didn’t last long….

Held back for a month because of an oblique issue, the top pitching prospect had one Extended start under his belt before pitching in a game for the Blue Jays High A Florida State League affiliate Dunedin last night.

Pearson showed some obvious signs of rust, according to observers in attendance.  His customary velo (sat 94-96 with his fastball, touched 99), but his release point was inconsistent.  He gave up a two-run Oppo HR in the 1st, but appeared to be settling down a bit in the 2nd.  Pearson gave up an infield single on a sawoff, then fanned a pair of hitters after falling behind.  He fell behind 2-0 to the next hitter, then was walloped with that line drive on the arm after firing a 95 pitch down the heart of the plate. One eyewitness said there were two distinct cracks – one off the bat, the other off of Pearson’s arm.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins this morning said that x-rays revealed Pearson has a non-displaced fracture of the ulna, the long bone that runs from the elbow to the pinky.  The best case recovery time will be about six weeks, with rehab after that.  A late August comeback might not be out of the question, but his 2018 is pretty much a write off.

 

Ryan Borucki Rounding Into Form

Buffalo LHP Ryan Borucki may not be the best Pitching prospect in the Blue Jays organization, but he’s closest to MLB-ready at the moment.

Borucki made his first start of the year on April 10th, but because of the poor spring weather that settled in over the Northeast, he didn’t take the mound again until 10 days later.  His performance suffered as a result, but he made his best start of the season yesterday, throwing 7 shutout innings against Washington’s Syracuse affiliate.

Borucki was masterful with his sequencing yesterday, mixing all four of his pitches and keeping the Syracuse hitters off-balance.  He told milb.com:

“I just really had my fastball command. I was working it down, got a lot of ground-ball outs, which is always good. Whenever you keep it out of the air, it’s always a good thing. I had my offspeed. My slider was working to get ahead of hitters. I was putting them away with my fastball and my changeup, which are usually my go-tos. I just mixed my pitches pretty well today and the results showed.”

Consistently working down in the zone, Borucki retired 19 of the last 21 hitters he faced.  In addition to the pair of hits, Borucki surrendered a pair of walks.  10 of his outs came via the ground ball, and he fanned 5.  He was ahead of the hitters all day, making his change-up an even more effective pitch.

If/when the Blue Jays need a spot starter over the next few weeks or months, depending on how his turn in the rotation matches up, Borucki should be at the top of the list of Pitchers the team is considering promoting.

 

When is it time to Promote a Prospect?

You can’t see it unless you’re there, but there is a wide array of data being collected at each and every minor league game.  Behind home plate sit scouts with notebooks and radar guns, as well as last night’s Pitcher, who is charting pitches.  Further up, somewhere in the press box level is a Trackman sensor that can capture upwards of 27 different and unique measurements grouped by release point, pitch movement, plate location, and batted ball.  In the dugout, the Manager and coaching staff are taking mental notes to include in the post game report they file for the affiliate’s MLB parent.  In addition, there are the observations from the club’s roving instructors, training staff, and front office staff that are compiled on a regular basis.  Depending on the time of year, front office staff may be in attendance, taking notes. As fans, we don’t get to see this, but there is a mountain of information collected every game.

For fans whose actual exposure to a minor league prospect consists of looking up their stats on milb.com while clamoring for the promotion of that player, they’re looking at the tip of the developmental iceberg, missing the bulk of that player’s characteristics which lies below the surface.

Promoting a player to the big leagues is a process that can be fraught with hazards.  In the words of Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus,

Grant promotions too early or too often, and they risk jeopardizing his future by burying him on the bench or subjecting him to the mental and physical rigors of major-league life before he’s equipped to handle them. Delay advancement too long, and they threaten to sabotage his development in a different way, blunting his talents against inferior competition while more expensive players with shorter shelf lives take up space on the big-league roster.

We could be talking about any minor leaguer, but of course, we’re mainly discussing Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who is shredding AA pitching at the tender age of 19.  The media has been full of suggestions that it’s time to promote the youngster, and Blue Jays-related social media has been circling the bases multiple times with that idea.

But as GM Ross Atkins told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, there’s more to promoting a player than his numbers:

“That’s just offence, right, when you say statistically,” the Blue Jays GM says in an interview. “There are so many more aspects of the game. And it’s only a month of performance above A-ball, as well. Look, man, we’re elated that he’s having this type of performance and it doesn’t look like this performance is going away, the way he’s doing it.

Atkins did not come out and say that Guerrero, who has played less than 200 games at 3B, needs more reps, but he certainly did suggest it:

“It’s really two things,” Atkins said of the developmental priorities for Guerrero, “it’s first-step quickness and how that impacts his defence, and best possible teammate, because he has the potential to be a leader.”

When it comes down to evaluating whether a prospect is ready for a promotion, teams go far beyond their stats (although minor league numbers, of course, tend to be a good indicator of future MLB success).  Everyone involved with the team’s minor league system has a say in whether a player is ready from a competitive and emotional standpoint for the next level.  For the Blue Jays, that line starts with VP of Baseball Ops Ben Cherington, whose focus with the team is on player development and their minor league system, through Atkins,  and includes Director of Player Personnel Gil Kim,  Director or Minor League Ops Charlie Wilson, High Performance Director Angus Mugford, Analytics Staff, Roving Instructors, Minor League team staff, and likely Special Assistant Tim Raines.  Gathering consensus from such a large group is probably quite difficult, but all have a say, and a player generally doesn’t move forward until it’s reached.  Atkins confirmed that process:

(W)e work through a very detailed process to understand all of the risk factors, all of the objective and subjective information in and around what’s best for a player’s development,” said Atkins. “That’s thinking about the complete player, factoring in environment, factoring in competition level, factoring in resources such as coaches, who he’ll be playing alongside of and what that means for putting the best possible challenge in front of our players in the best possible environment. It’s not about the right time. We’re constantly doing that. We’re constantly factoring in all of those factors.”

The biggest pitfall in promoting a player is that he proves not to be ready for that level, and many teams tend to err on the side of caution in that regard.  The Blue Jays have proven that they don’t mind being aggressive with their prospect promotions, but they have developed a one-step-at-a-time template that they widely adhere to.  Each level of the minors has its own developmental challenges for players, and the Blue Jays see value in spending time at each one – including AAA –  as Cherington told Sportsnet:

“We do feel like it’s important for players to play at the triple-A level. It’s an important development challenge to be here,” Cherington said. “We’ve got players here right now who we really believe in and believe are going to be good major-league players. They are being challenged by this level. This is an important level to be at for some period of time.

“It’s a different level of competition than double-A is,” he added. “Different kind of players you’re facing, different matchups, different game-planning strategies — it’s just a different level of play.”

Is it Time for Vladdy Jr?

Last fall, in the aftermath of a disappointing 2017 season, Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro was asked if he could envision a scenario in 2018 similar to what the Red Sox found themselves in when they promoted top prospect Rafael Devers to the major league club a few months earlier.

Shapiro felt at the time that it was unlikely, pointing out that there was an opening for Devers on the Boston roster, but he wouldn’t close the door entirely:

If we find ourselves in the middle of a pennant race next summer, and Vladdy had been successful in the minors up to that point, there’s always a possibility that we could promote him.

Vlad3
Clutchlings Photo

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports feels that the time is right for the Blue Jays to move up the younger Guerrero’s timeline.  And he makes some compelling points in doing so:

-his numbers posted at AA New Hampshire would indicate that he’s ready to hit big league Pitching:

After another two-hit game Monday, Guerrero was hitting .380/.442/.582. He had just 10 strikeouts in 79 at-bats, matched by 10 walks

-baseball observers feel that he’s ready:

 (A) pair of longtime scouts who have seen him in recent weeks agreed when asked about Guerrero in a Blue Jays uniform.

“He’s ready,” one said.

“He’d hit in the big leagues today,” the other said.

-with Guerrero probably to be used primarily in a DH role if he was called up, he would fill what has become a black hole in the Blue Jays lineup:

Morales is 34 these days, and as much as the Blue Jays love him in the clubhouse, a DH with a sub-.700 OPS, let alone the sub-.500 that Morales currently carries, is a nonstarter. Even if Morales is owed the rest of his $11 million salary this year and $12 million next year, that is sunk cost, and keeping him in the lineup simply because he’s making good money is anathema to winning.

With the Blue Jays off to a very good start, Passan’s logic is hard to argue with.  After watching Guerrero a great deal over the past month, his pitch recognition, strike zone management, bat speed, and ability to use the whole field are elite.  While his high profile teammate Bo Bichette has struggled a bit (comparatively speaking) at AA this year, Vlad Jr gives every indication that he will be a dangerous MLB hitter before long.

So, why not take the bold move and promote him right now, so as to take advantage of having his bat in the lineup for the rest of the year?  A couple of reasons come to mind:

-playing 3rd Base is still relatively new to Guerrero.  He’s had the equivalent of less than two full seasons playing the position.  And while he displays good hands, footwork, and a strong arm on balls that he gets to, his range is still developing.  This is probably a combination of repetition, which gives him better reactions to balls hit his way, as well as the stength/flexibility/conditioning program the team has him on, which is designed to improve his range.  So far in his young career, Guerrero has proved to be an adequate defender, but not an elite one.  This comment from Baseball America sums up his defensive skills:

A gifted offensive player, Guerrero did not inherit his father’s speed or athleticism. He trained as an outfielder when he was an amateur and figured to be a left fielder at best, but after the Blue Jays signed him they put him at third base. He has surprised scouts with his play there, improving his arm strength to above-average and showing the hands to be a playable defender. However, Guerrero is already so big and stocky as a teenager that it’s going to be a challenge for him to maintain his weight.

  Of course, his bat will be his path to stardom.  Passan suggests a scenario where Guerrero DHs 4-5 times per week, then plays 3rd Base to give Josh Donaldson a chance to keep his bat in the lineup by taking a turn at the DH spot.  While that will no doubt boost the Blue Jays offence, it won’t do a lot to further Guerrero’s defensive development, and if Donaldson leaves as a free agent at the end of the year, the team will be weaker defensively as a result.  And for a team with groundball-inducing Starting Pitchers (with several others coming up in the system), that could spell danger.

Then there is the looming aspect of Guerrero’s free agency.  It may be six years away, but given how most free agents have shunned Toronto, it will take a great deal to keep him beyond that timeline.  Passan says that timelines shouldn’t matter: “Teams that aspire to win baseball games should field their best nine players every day. ”   Still, the Blue Jays would not be the first team to hold a player back in order to slow his countdown clock.  And it certainly wouldn’t be Shapiro’s style – in that same conversation, he stated that when it came to building a winner, “There are no shortcuts.”

Even though everything about Guerrero suggests that he’ll be a generational hitter, possibly even following his famous Dad into the Hall of Fame one day, there are no guarantees.  If he does get promoted, and struggles at the plate, Passan says that they can always just send him back down.  Which of course they can, but at the cost of service time.  You could also make the argument that the greater need for this team right now despite their good start is the stabilization of their rotation.  If Guerrero comes up and hits like his past production says he will, it may be for naught if the starters continue to falter, and their bullpen turns to dust.

Vlad Jr is easily the best position prospect the Blue Jays have ever developed.  He will likely become a first division, all-star caliber player, and after seeing him play in person in Lansing last year, I can’t wait to see him again.  If he is promoted, it will be worth celebrating, and would no doubt be a boon to Blue Jays attendance.  If the Blue Jays opt to stay the course and stick to his development timeline, that won’t be a problem either.  If he was called up, Guerrero would be younger than Adrian Beltre, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr, or Mike Trout were when they made their big league debuts.  We will see him in the Majors soon either way.  Keeping him back a bit as Bichette, Anthony Alford, Nate Pearson, Borucki, Logan Warmoth, and several other prospects in the system approach MLB-readiness will only help the team in the long run.