What to expect from Blue Jays' Vlad Jr.

April 25th, 2019

The future of Major League Baseball is coming to Toronto after the Blue Jays announced Wednesday that they will promote Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to make his big league debut on Friday against the Athletics at Rogers Centre.

Guerrero, 20, will join the Blue Jays after spending the better part of the past two weeks at Triple-A Buffalo, where he torched International League pitchers to the tune of .367/.424/.700 with three home runs in 12 games**.** The performance assuaged any concerns about Guerrero’s health after he had missed most of Spring Training with a left oblique strain that required a brief rehab stint in the Florida State League.

More than simply MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect, Guerrero is one of the most revered and hyped prospects in baseball history -- a budding generational superstar poised to make both immediate and long-term impacts in the Major Leagues.

As the son of 2004 AL MVP and Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, Vlad Jr. already came with plenty of name recognition and fanfare even before he ranked as the best international prospect in his class and signed with the Blue Jays for $3.9 million on July 3, 2015.

Since then, Guerrero has cemented himself as the consensus top hitter in the Minors, posting obscene numbers against older, more advanced competition at every level while demonstrating consistency that belied his age.

In his pro debut with Rookie-level Bluefield in 2016, Guerrero, just 17 at the time, batted .271/.359/.449 with eight homers over 62 games in the Appalachian League. He recorded 33 walks and struck out just 35 times.

The move up to full-season ball the following year came with even better results, as Guerrero compiled a robust .323/.425/.485 line with 13 homers, 28 doubles and more walks (76) than strikeouts (62) in 119 games between Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin.

Guerrero’s 2018 campaign, of course, was one for the ages. He batted .402 and .336 at the Double- and Triple-A levels, respectively, to finish his age-19 season with a Minor League-best .381 average. He also led the Minors in slugging (.636) and OPS (1.073), smashing 20 homers and 29 doubles in 95 games, and recorded nearly even strikeout (38) and walk (37) totals.

Unsurprisingly, Guerrero took home MLB Pipeline’s Hitter of the Year award for his tremendous performance, and he continued to rake after the season during a stint in the Arizona Fall League.

So what makes Vlad Jr. such a special hitter? Well, everything.

For starters, he is the only player since MLB Pipeline and MLB.com began ranking prospects in 2004 to have been ascribed an elite, 80-grade hit tool -- based on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, where 50 is considered Major League average.

Guerrero’s right-handed swing is both explosive and highly efficient, featuring a combination of bat speed, physical strength and off-the-charts barrel control that enables him to be consistently on time with his swing and obliterate any type of pitch to any part of the field. He generates deafening contact like few players can, and with great ease.

Beyond the physical components, Guerrero’s approach and capacity for making in-at-bat adjustments are equally impressive. With knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition that sets him apart from his free-swinging father, Vlad Jr. seldom expands his zone and rarely strikes out while consistently putting together quality at-bats.

And even though he hit career-high 20 home runs a year ago and has showcased massive, 80-grade power at every stage of his career, Guerrero has only begun to scrape the surface of the power potential that could make him a perennial 35-plus-homer player in the big leagues.

Many of his power-hitting feats have gone viral, too.

Since the start of 2018, Vlad has hit a walk-off homer during a Blue Jays Spring Training game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal; hit an opposite-field homer off of a batting tee while filming for an MLB Network segment, followed by a homer off of the facing of a hotel in a two-homer game several hours later; and, most recently, a blast that left Triple-A Pawtucket’s stadium and landed in the parking lot beyond the left-field wall, traveling a projected 440 feet.

As for what we should be expected from Vlad Jr. in the Majors from a production standpoint, the 2019 Steamer projection model pegged him as the 14th-best player in baseball going into the season, with a projected WAR of 4.7 that puts him in the same class as Aaron Judge and Nolan Arenado, and ahead of players like Trea Turner and Jose Altuve.

His projected batting line? A ridiculous .306/.368/.511, with 22 home runs in 138 games.

Whether Guerrero can actually achieve such All-Star-level production as a rookie is yet to be seen, of course, but it’s clear that he’s going to hit a ton, and the reality that he’s still improving and developing should already worry big league pitchers.

Guerrero’s defensive outlook as a third baseman is less rosy.

The Blue Jays were pleased with the gains he made there in 2018, noting that he improved his athleticism and overall footwork at the position. He also showed more arm strength than he did in previous years, earning plus grades from scouts, along with reliable hands that continue to be perhaps his best asset in the field.

The aforementioned attributes make Guerrero a passable defender at the hot corner right now, and it’s conceivable that he could remain there early in his career.

But with his physically mature 6-foot-2, 250-pound build and present below-average speed and range at age 20, Guerrero faces an inherent uphill battle in becoming a long-term third baseman in the Major Leagues. As a result, he’s widely expected to be moved across the infield to first base.

The good news is that Vladito projects to be the same elite hitter regardless of position, so a move down the defensive spectrum to first base doesn’t have the same negative connotation for him as it would a typical prospect.

For now, however, Guerrero is ticketed for an everyday role as the Blue Jays’ third baseman, and he should also see some starts at designated hitter as a means of keeping him rested. And don’t be surprised if Vlad is slotted right into the heart of the Blue Jays’ lineup, because it will be his home for a long, long time.

Yes, the expectations for Guerrero’s career may seem absurdly lofty, perhaps even downright unachievable. But if any player is going to live up to such massive hype, Vlad is a safe bet.