Toronto Blue Jays infielder Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. comes with a big pedigree but even bigger talent of his own.
The Toronto Blue Jays signed the namesake of one of the most popular Canadian players of recent memory to a $3.9 million bonus the summer of 2015 out of the Dominican Republic.
Originally born in Montreal while his father Vladimir Guerrero was one of the best players in the game for the Montreal Expos, Guerrero grew up in the Dominican Republic and was able to be signed in the regular international market.
Guerrero had skeptics due to his advanced size upon signing as he is built more stout than his father, who was built more long and athletic, whereas Junior has a more high-waist, thick-legged build.
The Blue Jays were impressed enough with Guerrero to send him directly to their advanced rookie Appalachian League team in Bluefield, an incredibly aggressive initial assignment for the average international signee.
He showed well for Bluefield, hitting .271/.359/.449 with 12 doubles, eight home runs, 15 stolen bases, 11.96 percent walk rate, and a 12.68 percent strikeout rate. He played third base the entire season, showing solid enough range, but some understandable raw-ness at the position.
His tremendous performance got him notice in top 100 lists in the offseason, ranking him #20 by Baseball America, #34 by MLB Pipeline, and #11 in the Call to the Pen Top 125 prospect list in January.
The Blue Jays assigned Guerrero to low-A Lansing in the full-season Midwest League at barely 18 years old, and so far he has absolutely torn up the level, hitting .343/.459/.556 with nine doubles, four home runs, and three stolen bases, posting a 15.57 percent walk rate and 12.3 percent strikeout rate.
Guerrero is listed at 6’1″ and 200 pounds. I’d wager the height is about right, though his weight could be 15-20 pounds more without really noticing due to his build.
Guerrero has what scouts call the “high butt,” with a wide shoulder and wide hip base with tremendous natural strength throughout his frame.
Contact (60) – Vlad has a swing that finishes in a very familiar manner, looking tremendously like his father with his wrap around follow through.
Guerrero has a quick bat through the zone and is able to contact pitches throughout the strike zone due to his tremendous bat speed. While he has a long wrap around on the back side of his swing, his load is quick into the zone.
Power (65) – The muscle build in the lower half of Guerrero is incredible, and it shines through in his power. He absolutely tattoos balls, even those he hits on the ground. One ball in one of the games I watched nearly took off the glove of the shortstop in the hole.
While it’s a present 60 power, I could absolutely see a legit 70-75 future grade on Guerrero’s power with his build and easy access to that power in his swing. I’m placing a 65 currently for a “hedge” on present vs. future.
Eye (60) – Here’s the major spot where Junior is the better player than his father. While his father was known for having swung at pitches on the bounce or far outside of the zone, with tremendous pitch recognition but seldom taking a ton of walks, Vlad Junior is able to not only recognize spin and recognize pitches but also recognize the zone very well.
Guerrero for a teen in advanced assignments with huge power has posted ~12 percent strikeout rate, showing his impressive ability to recognize pitches within the zone.
Speed (45) – Guerrero’s biggest area where he’s not his father has to do with his speed. While he has good top-end speed once underway, his father was noted for being able to get to top speed near immediate, a tremendous feat for a guy of his father’s height.
While he does not have tremendous speed, it would not be surprising to see Guerrero have a few seasons of double-digit steals due to his high baseball intelligence that he’s already shown on the base paths.
Defense (45) – The Blue Jays moved Guerrero from the outfield to third base as they believed he would be able to develop into a high quality third baseman with his excellent arm and good baseball instincts.
Guerrero has definitely made strides, but at his size, it will always be difficult for him to have the quickness to be an elite first step guy at the position. He has improved his initial instincts, and he could make the move to a 50-55 defender, making all the plays expected by a third baseman, but his bat will always be the leading point of his profile.
Arm (60) – Guerrero definitely inherited his father’s arm, though he does not have the accuracy his father displayed quite yet, especially at his new position. He needs to work on when to unleash top speed and when to just get the ball across as he launched a few balls when he could have just put them across the diamond instead.
MLB Player Comp
Player comps are often considered “lazy” when they compare a player to a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, but considering his HOF-level bloodlines, this wouldn’t be out of the range of possibilities for Vlad Junior.
While his father would be a natural comparison, he’s really not built like his father. His build is very similar to Dodgers/Red Sox version of Hanley Ramirez, but his swing and patience is very different at the plate, so that was a comp I considered but then went away from.
While I tried multiple times to find a different comp, especially a right-handed one, the guy who I kept coming back to in swing, build, and pitch recognition that fit the closest to who Vlad Junior is now and projects to become as a player is David Ortiz.
That’s not to say that I see Vlad Junior posting 500 career home runs or a .392 career wOBA. I do also see more ability to hold some of his athleticism as he ages than Ortiz ever had as a young hitter coming up.
The big thing that sticks out with the two is the ability to seemingly work over a pitcher within a game and even within a plate appearance. Ortiz did that frequently throughout his career, and Vlad Junior is already getting a reputation of being a guy that gets better the more he sees a pitcher.
Being not even a month past his 18th birthday in his first game at full-season ball, one would expect that Vlad Junior would end up spending the entire season in Lansing, but if he keeps up a 1.000+ OPS through May, the Blue Jays may have to consider promoting him to their high-A club in Dunedin.
It’s very feasible that not only will Vlad Junior be a top 10 prospect by the end of 2017, he could be the #1 overall prospect, and on track to debut by 2019, when he would just be 20 years old!
For comparison, his father debuted at 21 in a September call up, and was only up for about half of his age 22 season.