Vlad Guerrero Jr.'s explosion, M's rise highlight last week's good times
By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Welcome to Good Times.
Each Monday, we look at three "people" – managers, players, teams, cities, fan bases, etc. – who had a good time the previous week in Major League Baseball.
What are we waiting for?
1. Vlad Guerrero Jr.
It’s happening, y’all. The second coming of the second coming. Vlad Jr. has arrived again.
Sure, he technically made his MLB debut on April 26, 2019, and was captivating our attention well before that. But prior to 2021, Guerrero had been merely "very good" instead of "earth-shatteringly dominant." Well, the future is now, folks, because Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is officially earth-shatteringly dominant.
You can’t call what he has done so far this year a "breakout" because it’s not like he snuck up on us or came out of nowhere. It’s hard to surprise people with your skills at hitting baseballs when your name is literally Vladimir Guerrero. But there’s no doubt that Vladdy has been ascending to a different stratosphere recently.
Over the past week, he slammed four home runs, including the first three-game homer streak of his short career. He’s tied for second in baseball with 11 homers, and in the OPS column he looks up at one man: Mike Trout. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that right now – not in one year, two years or "eventually" – Vlad Jr. is the best hitter in the game.
And it’s not like this rise to dominance took him that long. The guy is 22 years old. He’s more than a full year younger than Adley Rutschman, the second-best-prospect in baseball. I know it feels like we’ve been watching Vlad Jr. forever, but heading into this season, he’d played only 183 games! That’s a season and three weeks' worth of plate appearances.
In the baseball world lately, we’ve been spoiled by the immediate success of hyper-young top prospects. Ronald Acuña showed up and was instantaneously magnificent. Juan Soto, too. Same thing with Fernando Tatis Jr. But sometimes it takes time.
Vlad held his own and took his lumps as a 20- and 21-year-old, learned from the experience, had history’s most electric home run derby performance along the way, made some adjustments and is fully realizing his potential in front of our adoring eyes. Just take a look at the three-homer game he had in April against the Nats (including two bombs off future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer).
The man is flat-out different. He’s like if you took Aaron Judge’s size, strength and raw juice and put it into a hadron collider with Javy Báez’s bat speed, fluidity and quick twitch. The power to the opposite field is ridiculous (Guerrero is tied for the league lead in oppo homers, with five).
There’s a lot to love here, but my favorite thing about this dude is that there’s no such thing as a boring Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run. He has different flavors to his taters – the oppo bomb, the laser beam, the moonshot – but I dare you to find a highlight of him hitting a dinger that bores you. It’s impossible. They’re all so watchable, so momentous. I’m so excited we get to watch this guy for another 15 years.
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2. Mariners fans
The good vibes in Seattle have to do with more than just the arrival of Jarred Kelenic, but let's start with Jarred Kelenic.
There are usually three types of unforgettable "first career" homers for top prospects.
1. The "from the jump": Dude steps up there and immediately dingers in his first career trip to the dish. The hype is real, right away. Feel the magic. See: Heyward, Jason.
2. The "clutch rookie": Guy hits a walk-off or an otherwise timely ding-dong for his first career homer. This kid might be something. See: Kepler, Max.
3. The "did you see where that went?": Dude hits one to Saturn. There’s never a doubt it’s going at least 400 feet. See: Bellinger, Cody.
Kelenic’s first career blast Friday night against Cleveland fit into none of these boxes but, rather, created a whole new category called: "How did he hit that pitch out?" Cleveland pitcher Aaron Civale pristinely spotted his change-up low and away on the corner — on a fastball count, no less. That meant nothing to Mr. Kelenic, who dispatched it into the right-field seats.
Things were coming up peachy all week elsewhere in Mariner World, too. After almost getting no-hit by non-seat-belt-wearer Zach Plesac on Thursday in Kelenic’s debut, the M’s roared back to take three of four.
Their win Sunday came in what looked on paper like an epically lopsided pitching showdown. Seattle sent a gentleman named Paul Sewald out there to make his first career MLB start (lifetime 5.50 ERA out of the pen) against reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Biebs didn’t make it through the fifth, Sewald didn’t allow a run, and the Mariners won the game. Baseball is fun sometimes, huh Seattle fans?
3. Patrick Mazeika
Many players of Mazeika’s stature (career minor leaguer) and presumably his future (organizational depth guy) filter up to the major leagues every year — every month, even. So many of those dudes bob up to the surface and spend a few weeks in the bigs as bench bats. They slap a few base knocks and maybe even a homer before they sink back down to Triple-A and out of our minds forever.
Shout-out to Stetson baseball legend Patrick Mazeika for making a lasting impact. The longtime Mets farmhand tallied two (!!!) game-winning RBI fielders choices, including one against the Orioles on Monday, before picking up his first MLB hit.
But rest easy, my friends, that first hit came eventually, when Mazeika cracked a nice, big dinger against the Rays on Sunday.
There’s something incredibly reassuring about a major leaguer who is built like your skinny friend Tyler from middle school. Mazeika looks like a regular dude, except that he can turn on a Diego Castillo heater, which your skinny buddy Tyler from middle school definitely cannot do.
Every great team needs a cult hero. The Mets have theirs in Mazeika. Hopefully, he can stick around a while longer and keep cultivating positive energy and unforgettable moments.
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.