Projecting Vlad Jr.'s first 10 seasons
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the No.1 prospect in the sport, is on his way to Toronto to begin his Major League career. From a scouting perspective, he might be the best pure hitting prospect in recent history. But what does that mean in terms of actual numbers in the box score?
In an effort to forecast Vladito's future, sabermetrician Brian Cartwright provided MLB.com with Guerrero's projections, over a 10-year span, via his Oliver system prior to the season.
Projections are inherently cautious. Yet Guerrero's Minor League performance, at his age, is so overwhelming that Oliver sees great things ahead, even with a standard, median outcome. Still, to provide a wider range of the possibilities, MLB.com's Tom Tango also used the data to create optimistic (90th percentile) and pessimistic (10th percentile) stat lines for each season.
That gives us three projections for Guerrero for every year from 2019-28, showing his slash line, weighted on-base average (wOBA) -- a version of OBP that gives credit for extra bases -- home runs, and wins above replacement (WAR). Each projection also comes with a historic comp based on wOBA and WAR at that particular age.
There are two important things to keep in mind about all these numbers:
• Our projections start Guerrero with 500 plate appearances this year, work him up to 600 in 2021, then decrease by 5 percent in each subsequent year. That results in an average of about 500 per season. As with any player, health is a huge factor that could lead to Guerrero either underperforming or overperforming.
• Defense is something of an unknown with Guerrero, who faces questions about his ability to stick at third base. For the sake of this exercise, it was assumed that he does so and provides average defense. Should Vlad Jr. struggle with the glove and/or move to a less demanding position (or even designated hitter), that would negatively affect the impressive numbers below.
2019 season (age 20)
Optimistic projection: .330/.402/.560 (.414 wOBA), 27 HR, 5.7 WAR
Comp: Frank Robinson (1956)
Standard projection: .300/.365/.509 (.376 wOBA), 21 HR, 4.1 WAR
Comp: Bryce Harper (2013)
Pessimistic projection: .270/.329/.458 (.339 wOBA), 14 HR, 2.6 WAR
Comp: Adrian Beltre (1999)
Harper knows a little something about being a mega-hyped prospect, though by age 20, he already had played most of a full season and won National League Rookie of the Year honors. He followed that up with an even better year despite missing time with a knee injury.
2020 season (age 21)
Optimistic projection: .339/.412/.594 (.430 wOBA), 34 HR, 6.9 WAR
Comp: Albert Pujols (2001)
Standard projection: .308/.374/.540 (.391 wOBA), 26 HR, 5.2 WAR
Comp: Hank Aaron (1955)
Pessimistic projection: .277/.337/.486 (.352 wOBA), 18 HR, 3.5 WAR
Comp: Ryan Zimmerman (2006)
Relative to Guerrero, Pujols came out of nowhere, but he made an immediate splash in his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2001, as he quickly established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball. Pujols' combination of bat-to-ball skills, power and discipline is something Guerrero could come close to emulating if his Minor League performance translates.
2021 season (age 22)
Optimistic projection: .345/.420/.622 (.443 wOBA), 41 HR, 8.2 WAR
Comp: Eddie Mathews (1954)
Standard projection: .314/.382/.566 (.403 wOBA), 31 HR, 6.2 WAR
Comp: Pujols (2002)
Pessimistic projection: .283/.344/.509 (.362 wOBA), 22 HR, 4.3 WAR
Comp: Scott Rolen (1997)
Rolen and Mathews both stuck at third base throughout their careers, and Rolen in particular distinguished himself there, with eight Gold Glove Awards to show for it. That would be an uphill path for Guerrero, though if he hits like Pujols, position and defensive ability won't be a huge concern.
2022 season (age 23)
Optimistic projection: .349/.426/.642 (.452 wOBA), 41 HR, 8.2 WAR
Comp: Mel Ott (1932)
Standard projection: .318/.387/.583 (.411 wOBA), 32 HR, 6.3 WAR
Comp: Miguel Cabrera (2006)
Pessimistic projection: .286/.349/.525 (.370 wOBA), 22 HR, 4.4 WAR
Comp: Jeff Bagwell (1991)
The Miggy comp is an obvious one. Cabrera was a touted prospect, made it to the Majors at 20, and quickly excelled as a big right-handed batter who could hit for average and power. He played his first full season as a third baseman at 23, after previously splitting time between the hot corner and the outfield. However, Cabrera has played mostly first since age 25, albeit while winning two MVP Awards and a Triple Crown.
2023 season (age 24)
Optimistic projection: .350/.428/.650 (.456 wOBA), 41 HR, 7.9 WAR
Comp: Hank Greenberg (1935)
Standard projection: .318/.389/.591 (.414 wOBA), 31 HR, 6.1 WAR
Comp: Al Kaline (1959)
Pessimistic projection: .286/.350/.532 (.373 wOBA), 22 HR, 4.3 WAR
Comp: Ryan Braun (2008)
Braun probably won't make the Hall of Fame like Greenberg and Kaline, but he has put together a stellar career. In a move that perhaps will become relevant for Guerrero, Braun raked his way to NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, but struggled enough defensively at third base that the Brewers moved him to left field the next year.
2024 season (age 25)
Optimistic projection: .346/.427/.648 (.454 wOBA), 39 HR, 7.4 WAR
Comp: Jim Thome (1996)
Standard projection: .315/.388/.589 (.413 wOBA), 30 HR, 5.8 WAR
Comp: Darryl Strawberry (1987)
Pessimistic projection: .283/.349/.530 (.371 wOBA), 21 HR, 4.1 WAR
Comp: Nick Swisher (2006)
Thome is another early-career third baseman who made the move across the diamond, in his case after the 1996 season, which netted him a Silver Slugger Award. He went on to launch 612 home runs (eighth all-time) and cruise into Cooperstown on the first ballot.
2025 season (age 26)
Optimistic projection: .341/.423/.639 (.449 wOBA), 37 HR, 6.9 WAR
Comp: Lou Gehrig (1929)
Standard projection: .310/.385/.581 (.408 wOBA), 29 HR, 5.3 WAR
Comp: Manny Ramirez (1998)
Pessimistic projection: .279/.346/.523 (.368 wOBA), 20 HR, 3.7 WAR
Comp: Mark Teixeira (2006)
If you're not a believer in Guerrero's defense, Ramirez could be a pretty good point of comparison. Manny's bat was never in question, and his 154 career OPS+ is tied for ninth all-time among right-handed hitters (minimum 7,000 plate appearances). But his poor and sometimes apathetic defense and baserunning also detracted from his overall value -- which still approached 70 career WAR.
2026 season (age 27)
Optimistic projection: .335/.419/.629 (.444 wOBA), 35 HR, 6.4 WAR
Comp: Chipper Jones (1999)
Standard projection: .305/.381/.572 (.404 wOBA), 27 HR, 4.9 WAR
Comp: Prince Fielder (2011)
Pessimistic projection: .274/.343/.515 (.363 wOBA), 19 HR, 3.4 WAR
Comp: David Wright (2010)
Jones was the NL MVP in 1999, but while he was able to remain on the field and effective through age 40, Fielder and Wright are reminders of how difficult that is. Both were stars in their 20s, and both subsequently dealt with serious physical problems that essentially forced them out in their early 30s.
2027 season (age 28)
Optimistic projection: .330/.414/.617 (.438 wOBA), 32 HR, 5.8 WAR
Comp: Joey Votto (2012)
Standard projection: .300/.377/.561 (.398 wOBA), 25 HR, 4.4 WAR
Comp: Troy Tulowitzki (2013)
Pessimistic projection: .270/.339/.505 (.358 wOBA), 17 HR, 3.0 WAR
Comp: Anthony Rizzo (2018)
Everyone expects Guerrero to hit right away, but Tulowitzki and Rizzo are reminders that doesn't always happen -- even for top prospects -- and that patience pays. Tulo hit .240/.318/.292 in a 25-game debut for the 2006 Rockies, while Rizzo hit .141/.281/.242 in a 49-game debut for the '11 Padres. Both recovered to become stars.
2028 season (age 29)
Optimistic projection: .322/.408/.598 (.429 wOBA), 29 HR, 5.2 WAR
Comp: Albert Belle (1996)
Standard projection: .293/.371/.544 (.390 wOBA), 23 HR, 3.9 WAR
Comp: Harmon Killebrew (1965)
Pessimistic projection: .264/.334/.489 (.351 wOBA), 16 HR, 2.6 WAR
Comp: José Martínez (2018)
Killebrew didn't make his way to the Hall of Fame with his defense -- he bashed his way there. But he did play a fair amount of third base (791 games), including 44 games in 1965. That was actually a down year for the Twins slugger at the plate, as he launched 25 of his 573 career homers.
10-year results (ages 20-29)
Optimistic projection: 68.5 WAR
Comp: Eddie Mathews
Standard projection: 52.1 WAR
Comp: George Brett
Pessimistic projection: 35.8 WAR
Comp: Ryan Zimmerman
Here we have three third basemen, each of whom debuted in his age-20 season. The first two became Hall of Famers and the third a respected two-time All-Star and franchise cornerstone who has been hindered by injuries.
For context, Mathews' 68.3 WAR from ages 20-29 is a record for third basemen and ranks 12th among modern position players, according to FanGraphs. Brett's 50.7 WAR ranks third at the hot corner (also behind Ron Santo) and tied for 32nd overall.
If Guerrero moves off third and becomes an average first baseman instead, his standard projection would drop to 41.1 WAR during those years. That's still an elite number at the position, with Bagwell a rough equivalent. Relegation to designated hitter would lower that number a bit further.
Ultimately though, if Guerrero can handle the hot corner -- at least for a while -- that would be gravy. The real attraction is the bat, and if these projections are any indication, it may be a special one.