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.
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.