Guerrero Jr. remaining patient about MLB call-up, excited for Jays' youth movement
TORONTO — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is all about baseball.
Not to sell the 19-year-old’s social life short, but there’s a reason the best prospect in baseball is exactly that.
Pressure, media, conditioning, expectations, service time … the questions roll off his back and it’s all a means to an end.
The goal is to be to one of the best hitters in baseball, an assessment the scouting world fully agrees with and a mountain some expect him to climb as soon as this season.
With expectations low for the Toronto Blue Jays as a whole, Guerrero Jr. will without a doubt become the main attraction … once he’s been held down at Triple-A long enough to gain an extra year of contractual control, keeping him in Toronto at least through the 2025 season.
“My focus is just on getting better,” Guerrero Jr. said as he faced the cameras on Winter Fest weekend at the Rogers Centre. “I’m never just thinking about making it to the big leagues. I’m really just working every day on what I need to be a better player.”
Guerrero, the player, is impressive.
What’s become evident as you watch the teenager interact, whether it’s with fans, media or otherwise, is there’s a calmness about him that says no stage is too big and the spotlight is something he enjoys.
“The experiences that he’s had in the last couple of years in terms of the attention that’s been drawn to him has not been the same for any other player that we’ve had,” said Gil Kim, director of player development for the Blue Jays. “Through it all, we feel like he’s handled those pressures and that attention very well. Vladdy’s upbringing with a Hall of Fame dad, with a big league uncle, in a town that’s particularly crazy for baseball, in a country that’s crazy for baseball, where these guys are superstars and legends; those experiences probably translate to his level of comfort in this type of environment.”
The evidence of all the work - don’t forget the natural talent helping him along - is there.
In his 2016 debut in the lower levels, Guerrero hit .271 with eight home runs in 62 games.
Not bad for a 17-year-old with zero professional experience.
The 2017 season brought even more production, as Vladdy slashed .323/.425/.485 with 13 homers in 119 games, pushing him from a player who could be a superstar to one that people expect to take that path.
This past season simply added an exclamation point.
Not much more can be written about what Junior did to Double-A, Triple-A and Arizona Fall League pitching, leaving him on the doorstep of his Major League debut as he approaches his 20th birthday next month.
His teammate with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for more than half a season last summer, Cavan Biggio has seen it all up close.
“It just goes to show how great he is,” said Biggio, who’s expected to start the season with Guerrero in Triple-A and could get a call to Toronto at some point if he’s able to continue the success he had in 2018. “In the mix of how great of a player he is and the fact of who is father is, the whole story is so incredible. He’s just a natural phenomenon and someone who a lot of people are going to want to be fans of. Vladdy is a very special player. His mix of power and contact and his makeup, too.”
Finding a flaw with the bat in Guerrero’s hands is tough.
His plate discipline and pitch recognition are elite.
Same with the hit tool that would allow him to dig pitches out of the dirt with hard contact like his father became famous for if it weren’t for the fact that aforementioned pitch recognition means he doesn’t chase outside the zone often.
The power, usually the very last tool to develop in many cases, has also gradually increased year by year, and no one expects the big right-handed hitter to do anything but mash as he continues to mature and add strength into his twenties.
There are no ceilings.
Defensively, however, there’s work to be done, and while Guerrero Jr. will debut at the hot corner in April, it’s uncertain how long he’ll stay at third base.
How hard he works to make himself a better defender (and he has), how his body develops, as well as what the Blue Jays have coming up behind him in the system will help tell that story over the next couple of seasons.
“There are a lot of reasons to be encouraged, while at the same time we all recognize that there are definitely areas that he can continue to learn, grow and improve,” Kim said. “We’re confident that he’ll continue to raise his standards in order to be the best that he can possibly be.”
They’re somewhat minor complaints about a player whose value is going to be tied to his work at the plate.
“Everything is important,” Guerrero said. “I know that I am not perfect. I try to be perfect.
“(The Blue Jays) talk to me about getting better, so I just follow their lead. I hear what the tell me, and work on what they tell me.”
Biggio & Co. don’t dispute Vladito’s readiness, but they’re all jockeying to join him in the majors.
“We’ve got a lot of good players coming up, not only the great one, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.,” Biggio said with a smile. “You look at the guys that got called up last year, like Ryan Borucki and guys like Danny Jansen, who are very good and are going to be a part of this team for a long time. I think that we’ve got a couple other pieces to bring up this year that are going to be in Triple-A, Double-A. If everything goes right, I mean, we can surprise a lot of people this year, I think, and that’s exciting to say with as young of a team as we’re going to have.”