Vlad Jr. launches his first career grand slam

July 21st, 2019

DETROIT -- The past few weeks of Blue Jays baseball have begged for a Vlad moment.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a modest cold patch -- one of the first of his entire pro career -- but time and again, he’s come up to the plate with runners on base and an opportunity to change the game. Finally, on Saturday night in Detroit, Guerrero delivered with a 441-foot grand slam to left-center field, which tied the game coming out of a rain delay and helped propel the Blue Jays to a 7-5 win at Comerica Park.

Guerrero, as he’s prone to doing, was quick to deflect the praise and instead wanted to focus on the young team that is working to improve around its young franchise cornerstone.

“As long as the team wins, I’m going to feel happy about it. If I go 5-for-5 and my team loses, I’m going to feel bad,” Guerrero said. “I feel good about this, of course. I hit it good and we won. It’s all good.”

Given his name, his size and his prodigious talent, it’s easy to forget that Guerrero is still just 20 years old, an age where most prospects are still shaking off their training wheels in the lower Minors. That means there will be plenty of firsts along the way, not just for Guerrero, but for the Blue Jays.

Guerrero became the youngest player in Blue Jays history to hit a grand slam at 20 years, 126 days, undercutting Brett Lawrie by over a year. He’s also the youngest MLB player to hit a grand slam since Jose Reyes, who did it four days after his 20th birthday in 2003 with the Mets, and the youngest AL player to slam since Tony Conigliaro all the way back in 1964.

It also ties the Blue Jays with eight other teams for the most grand slams by rookies in a single season, with four. This has all been done, though, with a little help from the vets.

Guerrero is particularly close with his fellow Latin players, including Freddy Galvis, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez. On Friday, Hernandez spoke about how that group has been encouraging their youngest teammate, both on and off the field, to rediscover the stroke that saw him shoot through the Minor Leagues heralded as a potentially generational hitter.

“Just to be myself, to play the way I used to play when I was in the Minor Leagues,” Guerrero said.

How he played in the Minor Leagues means a .331 average, a .945 OPS and more walks than strikeouts. Maybe that’s on deck for when Vlad is 22 or 24, when most of his fellow rookies are making their debuts, but this jolt of life in Detroit can act as a springboard for Guerrero down the stretch.

With 100 games down and 62 left, Guerrero’s power is what everyone is looking for after his jaw-dropping display in the Home Run Derby, where he launched 91 homers. The power tool can be slower to come along for a young hitter like Guerrero, but there’s no denying that it’s in there and, should he continue to round the corner, he should be able to chase 20 home runs and beyond as a rookie after hitting his ninth Saturday.

Manager Charlie Montoyo knew before the game that Guerrero was showing signs of being ready to deliver the big blow, but it’s still difficult to forecast until you see it. There have been frustrations for Guerrero as he’s worked to get to this point, but his off-field demeanor has impressed his manager just as much as anything he’s done with the bat.

“He’s 20 years old," Montoyo said. "He’s going to have his ups and downs, but he’s always going to find a way to smile. That’s just who he is.”