Blue Jays encouraged by Guerrero Jr.’s early off-season conditioning

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Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. watches his solo home run. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A couple weeks ago, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. posted a video of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. jumping rope on Instagram. The video, which features a cameo appearance from Rowdy Tellez, showed a leaner looking Guerrero Jr. skipping and smiling.

Charlie Montoyo’s phone is full of similar videos. The Blue Jays manager has been keeping close tabs on Guerrero Jr.’s progress through team translator Hector Lebron, who sends regular updates on the 20-year-old’s off-season conditioning from the Dominican Republic.

So far, Montoyo likes what he sees.

“It’s been fun to watch,” Montoyo said at the GM Meetings Wednesday morning. “He’s really working hard.”

To this point, Guerrero Jr. appears to have shed some weight compared to the end of the season. It’s far from a complete transformation, but nonetheless a step forward for a player who acknowledged feeling fatigued as his rookie season wound down.

While few 20-year-olds are capable of posting a 106 OPS+ in the big-leagues, Guerrero Jr.’s considerable potential didn’t quite come together in 2019. Oblique and knee injuries sidelined him at times, leading many with the team to believe better conditioning could keep him on the field for more games by reducing the impact on his body. Entering the off-season, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins spoke with Guerrero Jr. about using the winter months to get in better shape.

“We’re being very clear. He knows he has to come in in overall better condition,” Atkins said following the regular season. “And he has a plan to do that. He is committed to it. We have helped him construct it. It’s really clear. It’s a very clear plan that if he executes — and if we execute, we’ll be accountable for that as well, if we can do that together — he’ll be at a much better place.”

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From what Montoyo has seen, the fatigue Guerrero Jr. felt at the end of the season may have motivated him to improve his conditioning.

“He knows it,” Montoyo said. “It was a great test for him to see how long a big-league season is. He understands that and I think that’s why he’s working really hard right now.”

Head strength coach Scott Weberg is in the Dominican Republic with Guerrero Jr., who will likely spend much of January at the Blue Jays’ Dunedin, Fla. complex ahead of spring training.

“He’s working very hard,” Atkins said earlier this week. “Every day was extremely consistent. I’m sure you guys saw some of the video. He’s committed. The best thing to see is how much he’s enjoying the process, how much he’s enjoying the work and sticking to a plan that he set out to from day one. He’s not missed a beat.”

Though Guerrero Jr. struggled defensively at times last year, the Blue Jays appear to be committed to keeping him at third base, where his overall value to the team would be highest. While Atkins speaks often about his players’ versatility, he never mentions Guerrero Jr. as a multi-positional option.

Meanwhile, Gurriel Jr. (appendicitis) and Bo Bichette (concussion) have made full recoveries from the issues that sidelined them at the end of the 2019 season.

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