Even just two games into his career with the team, it is safe to say that there has never been anyone quite like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and there may never be again.
To a great extent, that is a tribute to the awesome skill and exceptional poise of the player himself. But the young Guerrero also finds himself in the midst of a unique set of historical, cultural and economic circumstances that have shaped his development, as well as his arrival.
Certainly, the Blue Jays have had their share of remarkable players over the years, and they all had their debuts. Tony Fernandez’s arrival was one of the key elements that changed the Blue Jays franchise from an addled and sometimes embarrassing expansion franchise to the perpetual contender that they became in the mid-to-late 1980s. His arrival was heralded enough that he was at least mentioned in season previews before the 1984 season, after having had his September call-up the previous year.
Fernandez was called up after Victoria Day in 1984, shortly before his 22nd birthday, and promptly started his season 0-for-19. In fact, Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox scarcely started Fernandez in his first month in the big leagues that year, using Fernandez primarily as a pinch hitter, pinch runner and defensive replacement. One could only imagine if Charlie Montoyo were to give Bo Bichette the same treatment when he arrives, eventually.
Carlos Delgado followed a similar path, getting summoned for two games in September of 1993 — as a catcher, don’t forget — before starting the next season off with the big club. Delgado came into that season as the fourth-ranked prospect in baseball, but such things weren’t really part of the daily discussion. If anything, Delgado’s reputation amongst Jays fans was defined more by his first three weeks of the 1994 season, in which he slammed eight home runs, than any previous knowledge of his exploits in Syracuse, or Knoxville, or St. Catherines.
Delgado struggled after that hot start, and eventually found his way back to the minors, where the Jays attempted to figure out where to put him defensively. It would end up being 1996 before he would solidify his spot in Toronto.
In the cases of both Fernandez and Delgado, there was very little hue and cry over how they were treated, as this was generally accepted as part of the development path for young players.
By the time Vernon Wells arrived, fans may have been slightly more attuned to the idea of top prospects, and being picked fifth overall in the draft would have contributed to some heightened interest in his arrival. But again, it was very much as could have been expected at the time: A low-pressure September cup of coffee, and a May call-up in 2001 before becoming a regular in 2002.
By the latter part of that decade, the ubiquity of internet access and many new sources for stats and analysis would mean that the anticipation ahead of the arrivals of Travis Snider, Kyle Drabek or Brett Lawrie was growing with increased intensity. But even with these, it was the core fans who were most interested, and the wait was more a matter of months than years, as has been the case with Vladdy.
Guerrero is clearly a case unto himself: Not only the top prospect in baseball, but arguably, the top prospect for two years running. He also first found himself in those top 100 lists at an unusually early age, and at a time when those lists were multiplying and becoming increasingly accessible. There were many opinions about Vladdy before any of us had seen any more than grainy video of him.
Then, over the past two seasons, Guerrero’s exploits were abundantly available to be seen. Whether if it was cellphone video posted to social media or video of full games available for streaming, fans had their appetites perpetually whetted for this exceptional prospect. Where fans would check the boxscores and stat lines for information about Snider or Lawrie, they could see — without even having to look very hard — how Guerrero was crushing each level, even as one of the youngest players in each successive league.
And of course, his connection to Canadian baseball history through his famous father made his story that much more compelling, for casual fans and the Montreal Expos diaspora.
That knowledge of what a generational talent Guerrero can be bumped up against the reticence of the front office to advance him to the top level. Never has the customer demand to see a minor-league player ascend been so highly pitched, and yet, his arrival would be delayed for reasons that are defensible or not, depending on your perspective.
Could there be another player so anticipated who will come along? Possibly, and one could argue that the process of waiting for Vladdy could have prepared fans to approach subsequent prospects with similar expectations. The aforementioned Bichette certainly checks many of the same boxes as Guerrero, and he will only move as fast as the collectively bargained rules around player control allow.
Still, Guerrero is clearly the most anticipated young player in the 43 years of this franchise’s existence. He is the start of a whole new era, and it is hard to conceive of any prospect having as many reasons to capture fans’ imaginations.