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Steve Phillips

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It’s not a matter of if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gets to the big leagues; it’s only a matter of when. 

And even that is pretty predictable. The Major League Baseball season is 187 days long, but in order to qualify for one full year toward free agency a player only needs to accumulate 172 days of service. The Jays will call Guerrero up on a date that ensures he will accumulate 171 days of service or less next season. So, his call-up date won’t be earlier than April 12, 2019.

The Jays will say (with a straight face hopefully) at the end of next year’s spring training that they’re sending Guerrero to the minors to continue to work on his defence, even though he’ll have hit a bunch of homers and been an unstoppable force.

Try to remember that Toronto’s front office is doing it for the fans. The Jays want to ensure control of their young star for the most games possible. Manipulating his call-up and service time ensures he will be under the Jays control for almost seven full seasons through the age of 26. I know Blue Jays fans are anxious to experience Vladmania but I promise it will be worth the wait.

I’ve had the privilege of watching the young man play a number of times, most recently in Buffalo with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate this week. The following is my full scouting report on Guerrero.

Before I give my grades, let me explain the evaluation system. The grading system uses a 20-80 scale that is based on a comparison to an average major-league player:

80 Excellent

70 Very good

60 Above average

50 Average

40 Below average

30 Well-below average

20 Poor

For a position player like Guerrero the scale equates to a grading system of specific tools as follows:

 

Position Player Grading System

Grade Hitting (BA)  Power Frequency (HR) Run/Speed Second (RHH)
80 .320+ 40+ 4
70 .300-.319 30-40 4.1
60 .280-.299 23-29 4.2
50 .260-.279 15-22 4.3
40 .240-.259 8-14 4.4
30 .220-.239 4-7 4.5
20 .200-.219 1-3 4.6


Grades for raw power, fielding, arm accuracy, base running and intangibles are a bit more subjective. When scouts write up reports they include present and future grades. The present grade is an evaluation that considers how the player would compare to major leaguers if he was in the bigs right now, not how he compares to other minor-league players.

The future grade captures what the scout believes the player will become when he maximizes his potential as major-league player. 
 
The difference between the two grades in each category accounts for the development of the player based upon physical, emotional and mental maturity, plus the player’s attitude and aptitude to make necessary adjustments.
 
Here is how I grade Vladimir Guerrero Jr.:

 

Phillips' Grades for Guerrero Jr. 

Tool Present Grade Future Grade
Hit 60 80
Raw Power 70 70
Power Frequency  60 70
Fielding 40 50
Arm Strength 60 60
Arm Accuracy 40 40
Speed 50 40
Baserunning 30 50
Instincts/Intangibles   70 70

Analysis: 
 
Hit (80): Guerrero has tremendous balance at the plate. He is always ready to jump a fastball but has tremendous pitch recognition to react to a breaking ball or off-speed pitch. He maintains an extraordinary level of focus and concentration at the plate and doesn’t give up at-bats. He can drive the ball from line to line. He has the extraordinary ability to centre the baseball and create elite exit velocity. He creates launch angle with his load-up before the pitch and generates significant backspin on the baseball.
 
Guerrero rarely expands the zone before two strikes. He won’t strikeout often and will take his walks. He is more disciplined early in the count than his father was. Vlad Sr. was famously a great bad-ball hitter. Vlad Jr. is a great bad-ball hitter but he rarely offers on anything out of the strike zone. He has an excellent two-strike approach at the plate; he shortens up his swing and hits the ball where it is thrown, trying to stay inside the pitch. He will expand the zone with two strikes, but because he has such good eye-hand coordination he puts the ball in play. He gets aggressive with runners in scoring position, the sign of an RBI guy.
 
Because I don’t like evaluating a hitter strictly by batting average, his approach is critical. He generates an extremely high exit velocity on contact, which directly translates to being a successful hitter over time. Guerrero will have an excellent on-base percentage because he will hit for a high batting average and take his walks.  And since he has very good power he will have an elite slugging percentage and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) over .950. He has a chance to win multiple batting titles and possibly home run titles.
 
Raw Power (70): Guerrero has a squat, compact body with a strong lower half.  His lower half works well in his swing, which generates excellent bat speed and exit velocity. He swings through the baseball and not just to the baseball. He isn’t going to hit the furthest homers but he won’t deliver wall-scrapers either. Because he doesn’t sellout for the home run he leaves some of the power in the tank.
 
Power Frequency (70): I see Vlad Jr. as a line-drive hitter with power instead of a pure power hitter. He won’t hit as many homers as he could because he is conscious of contact and doesn’t strikeout very often. I see him as capable of hitting 35 homers a year. I much prefer him as a .320 hitter with 35 homers than a .290 hitter with 40 homers. He will be a doubles machine early in his career, but eventually more of those balls will start going over the wall.
 
Fielding (50): This is the one area of Guerrero’s game where there is uncertainty. He will not be an elite defensive player at third base or any other position he plays. He will start his career at third and be adequate. I don’t think he has the athleticism or physique to be an above-average defender at the hot corner. 
 
He moves adequately to his left and right and his hands are fairly soft. His challenge is charging a slow roller while bending at the same time. He doesn’t have the agility or flexibility to make those plays on a consistent basis. His throwing will be a problem at times because his feet don’t always work as well as they should. 
 
He needs to improve his pre-pitch preparation by adding more movement and intensity as the ball approaches the plate. I’d also like to see him set up lower as the ball crosses the plate, with his glove closer to the ground. The ball can get on a third baseman quickly and it’s much easier to catch it raising the glove up instead of taking it down to the ground.
 
Arm Strength (60): 
Guerrero has a strong arm. He has a quick release and his throws have carry when his feet are underneath him. The more he moves, the less velocity he gets on his throws.
 
His accuracy is not as good as his arm strength. His feet don’t always allow him to get his arm in the best position to throw. His arm won’t limit where he plays on the field but his feet and accuracy may ultimately dictate where he ends up. 
 
Speed (40): You’ll notice my current grade is a 50 (average) for speed, but in the future I have Guerrero at 40 (below average). He has better speed while underway than he does out of the batter’s box. I think his speed will deteriorate unless he changes his physique in a significant way.  He won’t be a base-clogger, but down the road he isn’t always going to score from first on a double or from second on a base hit to left field.
 
Base Running (50): Below-average speed doesn’t mean that he can’t still be a good base runner who makes good decisions in time and space. His base running isn’t fundamentally sound yet. He is too passive with his primary and secondary leads and lacks intensity and conviction on the bases. I’ve seen him hesitate a couple of times when he should have read the ball off the bat and broken immediately. On one, he assumed he would score easily on a hit to centre field and got thrown out at the plate.
 
Even basic things like getting a walking lead down the third baseline and being in foul territory when the ball crosses the plate are not as automatic they should be.
 
Instincts/Intangibles (70): Guerrero has an extraordinary feel for the game with the bat in his hand. He seems to know what a pitcher is trying to do to him and also has the ability to manipulate the at-bat to get a pitcher to throw a certain pitch in a certain count.  
 
He’s not as instinctive on the bases or in the field. He doesn’t have a good feel for reading the ball off the bat on the bases or on defence. Neither comes as naturally to him as hitting.
 
Guerrero has a unique understanding how to handle failure and success because grew up in a major-league clubhouse. This will ease the emotional peaks and valleys and shorten slumps that are inevitable. He will be able to handle the physical and emotional grind of the season as he lived it with his father.

He also has an easygoing personality and seems to have fun playing the game. He is talkative and engaging with his teammates, even though they’re all older than he is.
 
Summation: Guerrero is one of the best young hitters I have ever seen. He takes extraordinary pride in his hitting. Every time he walks out of the batting cage he is smiling. He’s also the calmest, most confident 19-year-old I have ever seen.
 
His pitch recognition is phenomenal: He has an extraordinary ability to recognize a ball from a strike and a breaking ball from a fastball. He’s ready to be an exceptional hitter at the major-league level who will hit for average and power. He will lead the league in hitting and be a 100 run and 100 RBI guy. He will be an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Jays lineup for years to come.
 
The rest of his game still needs some work. His defence and base running need to be just as important to him as his hitting.
 
His preparation before each pitch while playing third base needs more intensity. I’d like to see more movement in his feet as the pitch gets to the plate. He is still and takes a small hop as the ball crosses the plate. Since his feet don’t move as they need to sometimes, I would emphasize his movement in his pre-pitch preparation.
 
He needs to be more aggressive on the bases. Baseball is a game of inches. He needs a bigger lead and a stronger secondary lead to ensure his ability to take extra bases when possible.
 
Guerrero needs to excel in all areas in order to be a true superstar. Some of these things may get addressed with maturity, but he may need a nudge as well. He will need to decide whether he wants to be a great hitter or a great all-around player. He has the ability to be one of the best players in the game.
 
Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball today, identifies an area of his game to improve every year. He wanted to cut down his strikeouts after one season and he did. Another year he decided he wanted to steal bases again. He did. When the analytics questioned his defensive prowess he made a marked effort to be better in the field.
 
My other area of concern is his body. I recognize that he is not long and lean. I’m not looking to body shame him in any way. He can hit just fine the way that he is. But I want him to be able to play for as long and as successfully as he can. 
 
He’s going to have to get trimmer in order to be an adequate defender at third base. He will be able to make the slow-roller plays better at third base as his flexibility and agility improve. As he logs games and seasons, the wear and tear will take a toll on his joints if he doesn’t get more fit.
 
My experience is that young players only get thicker and slower as they age if they don’t work at it. Cubs’ outfielder Kyle Schwarber worked really hard on his body last winter as he realized that it was necessary for him to be an adequate defender. It has made a difference this year for him and may add years to the backend of his career.
 
Blue Jays fans have so much to be excited about. Guerrero will be a force for the club’s offence for years to come. He’ll be at the centre of every good thing that will happen in Toronto baseball for the next seven seasons. I can’t wait.

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Steve Phillips was general manager of the New York Mets from 1997 through 2003, helping lead the club to a National League championship in 2000 and its first World Series appearance since 1986. His analysis appears each week on TSN.ca, TSN Radio and SportsCentre. Follow Steve on Twitter at @StevePhillipsGM.