TORONTO — The service time manipulation questions may slow for now, but you can expect the long-term issues of weight and durability surrounding Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ramp up even further.
Shut down by the Toronto Blue Jays for the rest of spring training with a left oblique strain suffered on a swing Friday in his final plate appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Grade 1 injury a relatively minor short-term concern, but the notoriously nagging nature of the malady makes the three-week timeline a loose one.
“He has a very aggressive swing, which is part of the reason [the injury occurred],” GM Ross Atkins told reporters Sunday. “We’ll be very careful and ensure he’s ready for that cage work and there will be less rotational work for the next week.
“There’s not a heightened worry,” Atkins added. “It is really just us being as proactive as we can possibly be to ensure we’re managing that moving forward.”
The last two Blue Jays hitters to suffer oblique strains on swings were Russell Martin, an injury that cost him a month in 2017, and Yangervis Solarte, who also missed a month with the issue last summer.
In other words, the injury happens.
But Guerrero Jr.’s status as the top prospect in all of baseball, one with a Hall-of-Fame father and the expectation that he will eventually land on the same track, has the spotlight shining so bright that no stone goes unturned.
That spotlight has oscillated between the service time issue that would have seen him start the season at Triple-A Buffalo even without the oblique strain, and his, perhaps generous, 250-pound weigh-in this spring as he approaches his 20th birthday on Saturday.
After putting up a 1.073 OPS last summer, the majority of it at Double-A and Triple-A, there was little doubt surrounding Guerrero’s bat being ready to hit major-league pitching.
Most expect him to not only hold his own at the plate, but likely make a big-time impact from the jump in his age-20 season.
The reason he was expected to be held at Triple-A through April 11 is to gain a seventh year of team control, which would keep him in a Blue Jays uniform through, at least, the 2025 campaign – his age-26 season.
Now, the question of the hard to peg Super Two deadline — the top 22 per cent of players with two to three years of service time — which would allow Vladdy Jr. to increase his earning power with a fourth trip through salary arbitration rather than the standard three, could come into play.
Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado, who both set arbitration records the past two off-seasons, were Super Two players, proving that the designation usually ends up being worth millions down the road.
Would the Jays try to hold off until mid-June and the moving target that is the Super Two cut-off?
One setback or never-before-seen scuffles upon his return to game action could lead to speculation, but the potential impact that would have on the relationship between the front office and Junior’s camp makes it highly unlikely.
Squabbling over a handful of future millions before he’s even hit his first major-league homer doesn’t seem like smart business, but sometimes business makes for cold, calculated and not fully thought through decision-making.
For now, the Jays will focus on just getting their future franchise player back healthy from an injury that will scrap the rest of his Grapefruit League games, as well as the Montreal exhibition games he starred in last March.
Guerrero had four hits in 19 at-bats in his first major-league spring training.
Bo knows spring
Despite having zero chance to crack the opening day roster, Bo Bichette continues to rake in Grapefruit League play.
After celebrating his 21st birthday last week, Bichette has been on a tear, banging out a home run and three hits Friday, followed by another three-hit effort and two homers Sunday.
His four-homer spring could be a sign of things to come, as the power seems to be developing as expected after he hit 11 home runs and posted a .167 isolated slugging mark last year in Double-A.
A couple of Bichette’s bombs this spring have been absolute no-doubters, not wall-scrapers.
Atkins said over the winter that a full season in Triple-A would likely be the ideal scenario for Bichette, who may need multiple injuries to players in front of him on the depth chart in order to be considered for a 2019 call-up.
Alford rebuilding stock
Coming off his worst season as a pro – a Triple-A campaign that saw him slash a muted .240/.312/.344 with a 26.9 per cent strikeout rate in 417 plate appearances – Anthony Alford is having the start to spring that he needed.
The 24-year-old’s prospect stock has fallen considerably over the past calendar year, but every once in a while there are glimpses of the exciting athletic ability that once made him a top 50 prospect in baseball.
Now up to four home runs in 10 games this spring, Alford is nudging his way back into the outfield picture, even if it’s likely he starts the season back with the Buffalo Bisons.
Staying healthy will be the key.
Last spring, Alford collected 10 hits in 31 spring at-bats, before a hamstring injury set him back well into April and he rebounded.
Blue Jays outfielders, as a group, are starting spring on the right foot.
Teoscar Hernandez is hitting .522 (12-for-23).
Billy McKinney has two homers and a .429 on-base percentage.
Randal Grichuk, despite a foot problem slowing him down early on, has also collected a homer and walked four times in five games.
Veteran centre fielder Kevin Pillar is the only one scuffling, with three hits in 25 at-bats.
So far, so good in rotation
The health of the rotation will be a theme all season long for a number of reasons and the first few weeks have been encouraging.
All of the arms coming off injured riddled years – Marcus Stroman (shoulder, blisters), Aaron Sanchez (finger surgery), Matt Shoemaker (elbow) and Clayton Richard (knee) – are healthy.
Most of them are pitching well, too.
Sanchez’s stuff has been filthy from the coaching’s staffs perspective, and he’s yet to allow a run across 4.2 innings.
Stroman isn’t far behind, limiting opponents to just four hits and a couple of earned runs in eight innings of work, while Shoemaker has struck out 10 batters –but allowed four homers – over 7.2 frames.
Ryan Borucki, meanwhile, enjoyed his best outing of the spring on Sunday, working five scoreless innings against a Minnesota Twins lineup that closely resembled what they’ll pencil in on opening day.