While there’s little doubt that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be able to handle big league pitching, fans should keep their expectations down on his power numbers to start his career.
Blue Jays fans are understandably excited to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. play next season. I mean, it’s not every day that you have the number one prospect in baseball.
It doesn’t help that the Steamer projections system has him slated to be a top-10 hitter in the American League next season as a 20 year old rookie, or that he tore apart the Arizona Fall League with a .351/.398/.446 slash line as the youngest player in the short season. The expectations are sky high, and so far he’s answered every test and then some.
Before I say anything, let me be absolutely clear that I’m a massive fan of the budding star, and I’m as excited as any Blue Jay fan to see him hit at the highest level and start the next generation of Toronto baseball. I also have nothing but confidence that he’ll be able to hit, and hit well. If he doesn’t start in the middle of the lineup, I’d be shocked he doesn’t earn his way there in short order. This team and lineup are going to be built around the Canadian-born slugger, pretty much right away.
However, I hope Blue Jays fans understand that even a potential generational talent like Guerrero is going to need time to develop into the best version of himself. It’s fun to think of him as a top 10 hitter in the AL next year, but that’s probably not a realistic expectation to put on him, and fans shouldn’t be disappointed if he doesn’t come anywhere close to that. Remember that Roy Halladay ended up all the back in Single-A to rebuild his approach before becoming a future Hall of Famer, and there’s no guarantee that Guerrero will thrive right away either.
I do believe that he’ll hit, as everything I’ve seen from him on video has been impressive. From his poise, his pitch selection, and the quietness of his swing, I’m confident that he can hit the world’s best, even if he’s not even old enough to purchase alcohol in the United States yet. However, I’d be surprised if he’s able to hit for significant power in his rookie year, at least enough to fulfill the fantasies of several Blue Jays fans in 2019.
I don’t mean that he’s going to turn into an Otis Nixon type of hitter or anything, just that I don’t expect him to be hitting 30 home runs as a rookie, or maybe even 20. He did not hit a home run during his AFL stint, which was cut short to return home and tend to a family matter, but he did add seven doubles during his time there. To me, it’s a reflection of how he’s working more on his plate approach and discipline than he is worrying about power numbers, and that’s a very encouraging sign.
The kid is a massive human being, and he’s only going to get bigger. He shouldn’t need to worry about power numbers with his frame and his beautiful swing, and it’s a tremendous sign of maturity that he’s hitting .351 rather than picking up multiple home runs. As he’s worked in yet another new league against new pitching, he’s taken the time to adjust and remain productive at the plate, regardless of how many times he hits the ball over the fence.
For what it’s worth, Steamer has him projected at 22 home runs next year, and if I had to put my money down on an over/under, I would take the under. That’s not a sign of disrespect at all, because if the same over/under were presented on a .300 batting average as a rookie, I’d have a hard time betting against him. I just think the power is going to come a little later. Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds only hit 16 home runs in their rookie years. Mike Trout might have hit 30 in his first full year, and Bryce Harper had 22, but that doesn’t mean that Guerrero is destined to best any of them.
For years we’ve watched this team live or die by the home run, and I for one don’t mind if that’s a part of Vlad Jr’s game that develops a little later on. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he found a way to hit a bunch of home runs at the Rogers Centre next season, but I’d be equally as excited with 15 home runs and a .300 batting average as a rookie, and that’s a lot closer to what I expect to happen. Regardless, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch, just don’t get bummed out if he’s not competing for the home run title next season. The home runs will come.