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Pipeline Rewind: Vlad Jr., Bichette analyze their ABs

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- It would be tough to find two Minor League teammates who have had more success at the plate over the past two seasons than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- It would be tough to find two Minor League teammates who have had more success at the plate over the past two seasons than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

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Since Opening Day 2017, when the pair was in the Midwest League, through games played on Thursday, the VladdyBo duo has combined to hit .333 and slug .527 while playing across three levels, all while being much younger than the average player in the league they were in at the time. Guerrero is just 19; Bichette is 20. The average age of hitters in the Double-A Eastern League, where they now play, is over 24 years old.

MLB Pipeline recently sat down with both Guerrero, ranked No. 2 on the Top 100 prospects list, and Bichette, No. 11 overall, to look at video and break down some of their recent at-bats.

Vlad's approach: Just put the ball in play
It's not quite as simple as a "see the ball, hit the ball" hitting philosophy, but it's not far off. When a hitter has as natural (some would say supernatural) a feel for barreling up the baseball as Guerrero does, it probably seems that easy for him. He doesn't have an 80 hit grade for nothing.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: An 80 hit tool!? Yes, that's an 80 hit tool -- the first we've ever given out. #BlueJays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has the highest offensive ceiling of any @MLB prospect & is No. 1 on our Top 10 3B Prospects list: https://t.co/l1C5KRCAgL pic.twitter.com/gkU1fz4tb5

On several occasions while going through his at-bats, Guerrero stated plainly that he just tries "to put the ball in play." With runners in scoring position, with two strikes, the plan boils down to: "I always try to put the barrel on the ball and try to have a good swing."

More often than not, Guerrero succeeds. And according to the Fisher Cats' coaching staff, he had hit 29 balls 100 mph or harder as of May 3. Guerrero is striking out in just 8.9 percent of his plate appearances this year while walking at a 9.6 percent clip. This is much more than "grip it and rip it." He may boil it down to a quick phrase, but it's clear that the teenager likes to see what a pitcher has to offer and doesn't mind working counts, though he'll swing at the first pitch when he feels it's warranted.

The one thing Guerrero tries to avoid at all costs is overswinging.

"Every time I overdo it, I fail, so I just try to put the ball in play," Guerrero said. "And I like to see the pitches, get to know his pitches so I can come back on the next turn with a better experience and know the location of his pitches."

That's true even against someone with a trick pitch. On May 3, Guerrero faced knuckleballer Mickey Jannis of Binghamton, the Mets' Double-A affiliate, and hit a ball out of the stadium.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: Vlad's bad, baby. Vlad's bad.Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the @BlueJays' top prospect & @MLB's top prospect still in @MiLB, absolutely demolished this ball last night, and the 19-year-old is red-hot: https://t.co/OuckJJ17UT pic.twitter.com/dRwBHhm9wi

"My approach against a knuckleballer is the same," Guerrero said. "You always have to see the knuckleball when it's high. He left that pitch high, and I was able to make good contact.

"I think that was the first time I hit one out of the stadium. I never stand there to watch my home runs. I always try to respect the game and start running after I hit home runs. When I got to the dugout, my teammates pointed out that I hit it out the stadium."

Bo's approach: Think with the pitcher and adjust with two strikes
Last year, Bichette became the first teenager since 1963 to win the Minor League batting title by hitting .362 (with a .988 OPS) across two levels of A ball. He's been a bit more ordinary out of the gate in 2018, with a .272/.355/.400 over his first 30 games with New Hampshire. Bichette admits to trying to do a little too much at times and has worked to get back to what works for him, as he understands that pitchers are not attacking him the same way they did in 2017.

"I'm getting approached a little bit differently," Bichette said. "I think everyone knows I'm an aggressive hitter, so I'm getting a lot of offspeed pitches first pitch and a lot of fastballs out of the zone. They're not really challenging me on the first pitch, so I'm just trying to be a little more patient, make sure I'm getting a good pitch to hit."

Bichette doesn't care what kind of pitcher it is offering up those pitches. Some young hitters might prefer a power pitcher who comes right after him with fastballs. But while Bichette knows what to do in that case, he doesn't mind seeing finesse guys attack him with soft stuff.

"It doesn't matter to me," Bichette said. "As long as you have the right game plan for either one, it's fine. I do consider myself someone who can think along with the pitcher, so sometimes a smart pitcher works in my favor a little bit."

Bichette's game plan is visibly at work when he has two strikes on him. The shortstop typically employs a big leg kick early in the count, but hee ditches it if he falls behind, in order to simplify things. Bichette will use his two-strike approach earlier in the count at times if he faces a pitcher with premium velocity, and he loves going the other way on fastballs, knowing he can react quickly enough to turn on a breaking ball as needed.

"I mostly just put my foot where it would have landed from my leg kick and just not leg kick," Bichette explained. "But really, it's all mental from there. Without the leg kick, I'm just really giving myself the best opportunity to be successful in that at-bat, trying to give myself the most time I can. See it as deep as I can and trust my ability to catch a fastball way back in the zone and still be able to square it up."

Vlad on Bo … and Bo on Vlad
There's clearly mutual admiration between these two hitters, and while they obviously have different body types and offensive profiles, they learn a lot from each other. Guerrero has spent the past year-plus hitting behind Bichette, so he benefits from seeing what Bichette does with each at-bat from the on-deck circle.

"I think how they pitch him, they pitch me," Guerrero said. "So when I see how they pitch him, then I go to the plate with a plan since we're the same kind of batter. Having him in front of me in the lineup, I learn a lot from him, I can have a plan from how they're pitching him, and that's probably how they'll pitch me."

While Guerrero loves the view hitting behind his teammate, Bichette is equally appreciative of what Guerrero does one spot behind him in the lineup.

"He's incredible right now," Bichette said. "He can't seem to hit a ball soft. I've been around him for a couple of years now, and I think as long as I take care of my business, whatever happens, happens, and he'll pick me up. He's great to play with."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

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