This is Major League Baseball’s new normal: 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. launching home runs that are both breathtaking and not one bit surprising. No, seriously. Go back and listen to the Blue Jays' announcers make the call on the first of two that he hit Tuesday night in San Francisco.
Guerrero had stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the first inning with a .191 batting average and no home runs after 13 games in the big leagues.
And yet, those announcers almost knew what was coming and came very close to saying so. They’d seen the quality of his at-bats and his confidence, and they just knew. Still, when Guerrero connected on that first one, they were justifiably impressed by the power and precision of the swing, even if it’s exactly the kind of thing they’re convinced he’ll do for the next 15 years. If there was a surprise, it was that it took 54 plate appearances to hit that first one.
Yes, baseball’s new normal. Old player development guidelines have been furiously rewritten as teams are now trending towards the belief that if a young player has the right amount of talent and the right kind of makeup, he can be fast-tracked to the big leagues.
So in a season where we’ve already seen MLB Pipeline’s top four prospects -- Guerrero, Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres, Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox and Nick Senzel of the Reds -- make their debuts as part of another line of dazzling rookie classes, it’s fun to project a couple of years down the line.
With apologies to all the young players who didn’t make this team, if I had to make an “All-Rookie” team right now based on how these guys are playing and where I see them going, here is what it would look like.
Catcher -- Willians Astudillo, Twins, age 27: He’s the most interesting rookie on this list. For one thing, he’s 27 years old. For another, he’s probably going to get most of his playing time going forward as a designated hitter. And then there are the numbers that make him so intriguing: One walk and two strikeouts in 70 plate appearances this season. In nine Minor League seasons, he had 85 walks and 81 strikeouts in 2,461 plate appearances. At a time when the Giants (Joey Bart), A’s (Sean Murphy) and Dodgers (Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith) have top catching prospects, and the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft may be Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Astudillo is worth keeping an eye on.
1B -- Pete Alonso, Mets, age 24: He leads all rookies in home runs and walks, is third in strikeouts and tied for third in doubles. That’s pretty much the definition of what teams are seeking in impact offense. Alonso began the weekend hitting .191 in May as teams focus on holes in his swing. This is a normal adjust-and-readjust phase.
2B -- Keston Hiura, Brewers, age 22: Tough call on this one with Michael Chavis off to a great start for the Red Sox and the Rockies calling up Brendan Rodgers, who is MLB Pipeline’s top-rated second baseman. But Hiura is the real deal as well, with a picture-perfect swing that will overshadow whatever defensive challenges he possesses.
3B -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays, age 20: Scouts still have video of Vlad Jr. on playgrounds in the Dominican Republic at age 15. Even then, he had the look of a Major League hitter, and while there may be questions about where he’ll play long-term, virtually no one doubts that he’s going to be a great Major League hitter. He started to show that this week.
SS -- Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres, age 20: If there’s a surprise about this 20-year-old, it’s that his defense at shortstop has been so good, so quickly, that having been the part of his game that gave some people pause. Offensively, he has done just what he was expected to do: Hit with power, steal bases, make things happen. An injured left hamstring has interrupted his season, but with Manny Machado and Tatis on the left side of the infield, the Padres are set for years to come.
OF -- Eloy Jimenez, White Sox, age 22: His arrival was delayed a year by injuries, and he begins the weekend with three home runs and a .674 OPS in 85 plate appearances. He’s also just 22 years old and still growing into a 6-foot-4 frame. He has strength and quick hands, and the White Sox believe he will be their No. 1 cornerstone for their rebuild.
OF -- Nick Senzel, Reds, age 23: Reds fans had been counting down the days until his arrival, with Senzel having been the No. 2 overall pick of the 2016 Draft. Injuries slowed his rise to the Majors, but he has the skill set to be a polished, All-Star caliber player. And he’s showing a solid power-speed combination, with three homers and four stolen bases in his first 13 games.
OF -- Victor Robles, Nationals, age 21: Robles, who turns 22 on Sunday, is having pretty much the exact season that a player his age should be having. Problem is, with teammate Juan Soto making it look so easy last season at age 19, the bar is set unrealistically high. That said, Robles is on pace for a 30-homer, 30-steal rookie campaign.
Starting pitcher -- Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres, age 23: Paddack tied his career high by allowing three earned runs against the Dodgers on Monday, which says plenty about how good he has been.
Other starting pitchers of note include Mike Soroka of the Braves, who was good last season, but has been virtually unhittable this year. The Tigers have stockpiled so much talent that it has been easy to overlook how good Spencer Turnbull has been. Corbin Martin’s fastball touches 97 mph, and he was polished, relaxed and dominant in his Major League debut last week for Houston. John Means is a lefty with a knee-buckling changeup in the great Orioles tradition of Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor.