Many of you have been following the exploits of Vladimir Guerrero Jr since his ascendacy to the top prospect (unless you’re Keith Law) ranking over the past year.
As someone who has been following him closely since he first stepped onto a diamond as a pro at Instructs in the fall of 2015, and has spoken with many people across baseball who have seen him and know him best, I think I’m in a position to give you an all-encompassing view of where he’s been, and where he’s going.
He’s Not Like His Dad
Let’s just get this out of the way – he his not a five tool player like his famous, Hall of Fame Dad. Sr was listed at 6’3″/235, while Jr checks in at 6’1″/200. Whether or not Vladito had only foot on the scale or not is unknown, but let’s call his listed weight “generous.”
He has a strong, accurate arm, but it is not the cannon his Dad’s was.
Unlike Dad, Jr is not a free swinger, and you’re unlikely to see him line a single to left on a 55-foot curve ball. Vlad Jr has a much better approach than Dad, and will likely draw more walks and get on base more often.
He does not have Dad’s speed, but he is a smart baserunner, and can be sneaky fast. Speed on the bases is a weapon, but not the reckless variety. Jr knows when to take an extra base, and when not to.
Because he’s a 3rd Baseman (for now), it’s hard to compare Jr’s defence to Sr’s. Vlad Sr had great range in the outfield, while Vlad Jr is still working on his in the infield. The team is still working with him on his first step, and while some guffaw at the team’s explanation that they’ve kept him in the minors so far because of that, the truth is that he’s still learning the position. He won’t remind anyone of Graig Nettles, and a move across the diamond is likely in the future, but for now he’s an adequate defender who has good hands, reads the ball well, and makes plays on balls he gets to. MLB hard smashes down the line may be another story, but everyone I’ve spoken to says he’ll be a decent defender. With fewer balls put in play every year, the Blue Jays are gambling that will be enough.
He Has Elite Pitch Recognition
One of my favourite Vlad Jr stories comes from his time in Lansing. As a pitcher stood on the mound during a practice session, Guerrero stood at home plate and called every pitch- ball or strike – as it left the pitcher’s hand. He called the type of pitch as well. And he called them correctly, in just about every case.
It’s almost like he knows what’s coming. To be able to recognize pitches like that is an unusual skill, and gives him a huge advantage in the batter’s box. He will chase a pitch he feels he can drive on occasion, but his strike zone generally keeps the same dimensions.
Jr’s Bat Speed is plus-plus
Guerrero’s thick mid-section does tend to raise some eyebrows, but it hides some serious athleticism. More importantly, his ample hips and butt allow him to generate serious torque with his swing. Jr whips the barrel of his bat through the strike zone with elite speed, allowing him to make contact that can be heard around the ballpark.
Like the man himself, Guerrero’s swing is not complex. A toe tap keeps his weight back, and his stride is moderate. He has quick hands and engages his lower half well. Jr gets good elevation and extension on his swing.
Guerrero will let the ball travel, and uses the whole field. He gets to his power in all counts. He can barrel up pitches in all four quadrants of the strike zone. Even with his other-worldly pitch recognition, he can be aggressive, but isn’t afraid to draw walks if none of a pitcher’s offerings are to his liking.
He loves to play the game
If you’ve already read the post that follows this one, you’ll know that Guerrero lives, eats, and sleeps baseball. As Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler said, “He’s 19, almost 20, loves baseball, and is really good at it. Nothing complex there.”
John Schneider managed Guerrero the past two seasons, and will be joining him this year in Toronto as a coach on the Blue Jays staff. He told us last fall that one thing that people may not know about Jr is that his English is actually quite good in conversation, and that the two text each other often. Like many Latin players, though, he’s not as confident of his fluency when dealing with the media, and uses a translator to make sure he understands what was asked, and that his answer is expressed clearly.
He’s a fun-loving, but quality kid
Last fall, the parents of a fellow Blue Jays prospect were in town to watch their son play in the Arizona Fall League. They were waiting in line for dinner at a restaurant after a game, when Guerrero and some teammates came by. The parents introduced themselves, and had a pleasant conversation – in English – with him. When Jr was leaving the restaurant, he made a point to stop and tell them it was nice to meet them. Maybe that’s not a big deal, but it shows Vlad wasn’t too big a star to be respectful.
Not that we should forget that he’s 19 going on 20. After last season, when Guerrero was likely exhausted, he initially wanted to pass on going to Arizona. One phone call from his Dad later, Jr’s bags were packed and he was on his way to Phoenix.
Is His Size a Concern?
While Jr was rehabbing in Florida last season, Sportsnet’s Mike Wilner posted a photo of Guerrero with several Latin Blue Jays at The Trop. The contrast was noticeable: Guerrero was larger than all of the pictured Jays, and he even made Kendrys Morales look downright svelte by comparison.
Is that something to worry about? It depends on who you talk to.
When he was signed, there were notes about his size, but it was felt that the Blue Jays training staff would help Guerrero slim down in the manner of Roberto Osuna, who had a similar body type before tearing his UCL.
It hasn’t happened.
Perhaps his athleticism will help him age well, and maybe a move across the diamond to 1B and/or some DH duties will help, but there’s a concern that if there’s one thing that could keep Guerrero from fulfilling his Hall of Fame talent, it’s his body. How well will he age?
Having watched Guerrero in pre-game workouts, he’s all business when he steps between the lines. There is no doubt about his work ethic.
If there is one thing about him that it would be nice to see changed, it would be whatever his current approach is to nutrition. Players with his BMI don’t tend to age well.
He Responds to Challenges
When Jr was introduced to Toronto after signing as a 16-year-old in 2015, he was asked by the media when he thought he would reach the major leagues. Without hesitation, he said, “within two years.”
While that may have been ambitious, especially considering the crash course in 3rd Base play that lay ahead of him, one thing that numerous Blue Jays staff have observed is that Guerrero always rises to a challenge. Whether it’s learning that new position, skipping all the way to the Appy League to start his pro career at 17, or dealing with a growing media spotlight, he’s exceeded expectations.
Once he gets to Toronto, there’s little doubt that he’ll continue to do so.