Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is a big fan of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but that may not be enough to get the teenager into the big leagues.
Despite Guerrero’s growing stature in the minors, the Blue Jays GM says the 19-year-old’s personal development is paramount to the organization, even if it has become apparent that the highly touted youngster could help Toronto when the new season starts in April.
“What we focus on is him getting better,” Atkins told SiriusXM. “We focus on that every day. We don’t have discussions about timing of when he’s coming to the big leagues or not. What we talk about is how we can help him realize all his potential. He’s young. He’s a young baseball player and there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Guerrero spent 2018 with four of the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates, the lion’s share split between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. In 95 games this year, Guerrero hit .381 with 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in, an impressive set of numbers given the nomadic nature of his season.
Atkins feels that Guerrero could step into the Blue Jays lineup right away, but he conceded that he and his staff have debated whether the player is done developing within Toronto’s farm system.
“Could he contribute and compete [at the major league level]? Sure,” Atkins said. “But could he get better and grow into an even better, complete, player, and man and teammate and person, too?”
Added Atkins, “The minor leagues are really special. It’s a special time to optimize development and really try to realize your potential and take advantage of it, and he’s doing that.”
Atkins said there’s little doubt Guerrero will transition to the big leagues eventually, and when that happens he’ll be the focal point of a new generation of Blue Jays. For the general manager, the potential of the entire development system — with Guerrero as its centrepiece — is the most compelling part.
“Having guys like Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and Kevin Smith and Logan Warmouth and — the list is long,” Atkins said. “Some of the exciting pitching that’s coming, [and] our young catchers that have already had some success, building around that is really exciting.
“If we didn’t have all those other pieces it wouldn’t be quite as fun to think about, but [Guerrero] is exceptional and there’s no denying that.”