Vlad Jr.'s maturation on display in 4th season

May 17th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

We’ve only seen glimpses of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. this season.

The 2021 AL MVP Award runner-up has had his moments, headlined by a three-homer performance against the Yankees in the Bronx on the same night he bloodied his finger, which required postgame stitches. Since that hot start in April, though, one of baseball’s brightest stars has been searching for a true hot streak.

“Obviously, I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I feel 100 percent,” Guerrero said through a club interpreter. “There’s a couple of things that I need to get better at, but the more games I play in, the better I’m feeling.”

By Guerrero’s standards, less than 100 percent is still plenty productive. Through 35 games, he’s hitting .281 with seven home runs and an .838 OPS. There’s a high bar, though, as he's coming off 48 home runs with a 1.002 OPS last season.

Any day now, Guerrero will start taking over games again. Part of his confidence comes from the fact that Guerrero knows himself as a hitter now, better than he has in the past. That’s partly due to experience as he ramps up in another full MLB season -- this one his fourth -- but it also comes with growing as a person. At 23, Guerrero is still coming into his own as a young man, which he feels is carrying over into his game.

“Maturing has helped me a lot. I’m feeling a lot better,” Guerrero said. “It’s not just that, it’s also the advice I get from my family. It’s been a real help to me. Being more mature now, it’s a great thing, and it helps me get better. [Compared to] when I was back home when I was 18 and 19, I can make better adjustments now.”

Part of this process includes how Guerrero spends his time away from baseball. With 162 regular-season games, baseball represents the ultimate grind. It’s not the most physically demanding of the major North American sports, but mentally, players need to find times throughout the season to come up for air and reset. 

“Most of the time, I kind of disconnect myself from baseball to be with my family, my daughter and my fiancée,” Guerrero said. “But when I do watch a game, I actually try to watch division games. Why? Because sometimes you can pick up something or learn from those games and take advantage of that.”

That’s Guerrero, always thinking. 

This maturation is showing itself on the field in other ways, too. Guerrero has been more assertive both during games and behind the scenes. He understands his role as a leader, even at a young age, and his big personality is coming out more and more. 

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays’ lineup has been struggling lately. The recent road trip through Cleveland, New York and Tampa Bay featured far too many games during which the bats fell quiet and the pitching staff was asked to do all of the work, which will never be sustainable. But there’s too much talent on this roster for that to last. It needs to change soon, too, in a stacked AL East.

“Our division is tough. We are going to be facing great teams every night,” Guerrero said. “Like I always say, though, you have to prepare yourself first. That’s how you go out there and win the game.”