In seeking to strike a balance between Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s natural ability, the rawness to his game and his age, the Toronto Blue Jays placed the third base prospect with the rookie class Bluefield Blue Jays, where his first week has been full of adventure.
The 17-year-old collected a hit in his first game with his superstar father in attendance, homered in his second and in six games so far has gone deep twice with seven RBIs while slashing .191/.261/.476. He’s also made four errors in the field, underlining why starting him at Bluefield rather than short-season-A Vancouver, where he’s expected to reach this year, makes sense.
“He’s definitely one of the more advanced players we had in extended camp but we were cautious that he just turned 17 in March, it’s his first professional season and wanted to make sure that we were putting him in the best environment to develop,” says Gil Kim, the Blue Jays’ player development director. “He’s got Dennis Holmberg, a very experienced manager there in Bluefield who’s done a good job, and it was the perfect entry-level environment.”
As the early stats suggest, Guerrero’s bat is well ahead of his glove, and that isn’t surprising given the transition from outfield to third base after the Blue Jays signed him for $3.9 million last July.
Kim, who served as international scouting director for the Texas Rangers before joining the Blue Jays, remembers seeing Guerrero as an outfielder and says the young slugger has “surprised a lot of people,” with his play at third. “There’s a learning curve,” he adds, “but he’s making the most out of it.”
“Vladdy has good instincts, he gets good reads off the bat, strong arm and he knows how to play,” Kim continues. “The biggest focus with him is the first-step quickness right now and just getting repetition out there overall, at the plate as well. He’s an advanced bat but there’s still no replacement for getting game ABs.”
Here’s a look at how some other Blue Jays prospects are progressing:
Dalton Pompey – The 23-year-old outfielder is day-to-day with a concussion but after a slow start has done some good things with the Bisons. He’s batting .280/.351/.339 in 44 games with 10 stolen bases. “Dalton has taken a big step forward,” says Kim. “His on-field performance is definitely better, being a spark-plug, he’s really been focused.”
Double-A New Hampshire
Rowdy Tellez – The 21-year-old first baseman is one of the few young players challenged by the Blue Jays with his assignment and he’s responded with a solid performance, slashing .266/.376/.460 in 69 games with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. Still, perhaps most telling are his 41 walks versus 53 strikeouts. “He has an advanced approach for that age,” says Kim. “Even when he was struggling a bit, he was still working counts, getting on base, drawing his walks. (Hitting coach) Stubby Clapp has done a great job with him just to get him to be aggressive and to get him to jump on those fastballs. He’s been coming on as of late.”
Tim Mayza – A 12th-round pick in 2013, the 24-year-old lefty started gaining organizational attention last summer when his command improved and he’s taken off since. He sits 92-96 mph with an above-average slider that helped him post a 2.04 ERA in 35.1 innings over 21 games at single-A Dunedin before his promotion. He’s allowed one earned run in three games so far with New Hampshire. “Electric stuff,” says Kim. “We had placed fastball command as a priority for him and he was able to come in and shut the door on a number of occasions in Dunedin. Very impressive and we’ll see what he’s got up there.”
Matt Dermody – The 25-year-old lefty dominated at Dunedin and has done the same with the Fisher Cats, where he has a 0.56 ERA and 0.688 WHIP in 16 innings over 13 games while striking out a batter an inning. “We challenged him to be an effective left-on-left guy, gain a little deception, tighten up his slider and he was very effective in Dunedin,” says Kim. “He deserved the challenge of New Hampshire and he’s continued to go out there and throw strikes and be effective.”
Danny Barnes – The 26-year-old righty has posted silly numbers in 35.2 innings over 24 games, with a 1.01 ERA and a WHIP of 0.589 and a strikeouts per nine rate of 10.1. “He’s a Princeton guy, very intelligent, 90-94, throws a lot of strikes and he’s tough to pick up,” says Kim. “He’s always had a good fastball and changeup, this year developing his slider was his biggest priority and he’s tightened it up effectively. He’s not necessarily going to wow you with stuff, but he finds a way to get it done and we’re going to keep challenging him.”
Francisco Rios – Recently named to the Futures Game, the 21-year-old from Mexico has quickly put himself on the radar, dominating in six starts at low-A Lansing before continuing to roll at Dunedin. He has a 2.51 ERA in 57.1 innings over nine starts, with a tidy WHIP of 1.134 and strikeouts per nine rate of 6.0. “Very polished, consistent delivery, throws a lot of strikes, commands the ball and he really knows how to pitch,” says Kim. “Fastball, slider, curveball, change, he has really great feel. He’ll occasionally touch a mid-90s, sits in the low 90s but with him it’s more pitchability, feel and being able to pound the zone with strikes.”
Anthony Alford – It’s been a star-crossed season so far for the centre-fielder widely regarded as the club’s top prospect, thanks to a knee injury and a concussion he recently returned from. The numbers aren’t great – he’s slashed .203/.301.287 in 40 games – but he’s endured all that’s been thrown his way. “You can’t faze Anthony, you talk about a guy that has an extremely strong mentality and persevering mindset,” says Kim. “He came back from the knee injury just fine and he’s shown no signs of slowing down post-concussion, either. With each injury he’s been beating down our door trying to get us to let him back on the field as soon as possible, so he’s fine.”
Sean Reid-Foley – The 20-year-old right-hander has allowed a mere two earned runs in 19.1 innings over three starts since his promotion from Lansing, where he posted a 2.95 ERA in 11 starts. The major jumps forward for him have come in his fastball command and the gains in his overall routines, two areas the Blue Jays prioritized for him. “He knocked it out of the park, really,” says Kim. “To Sean’s credit, everyone there in Lansing raved about how he approached his work and how serious he was, how competitive and focused he was toward achieving those development goals that we set for him. What we’re seeing now in Dunedin is a continuation of that, and it’s been impressive.”
Connor Greene – The 21-year-old right-hander invited to big-league camp this spring has been hot of late after a slow start. Overall he’s 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 15 starts, posting a WHIP of 1.442 and a strikeouts per nine rate of 5.9. “Specifically in the last five weeks, he’s increased his first-pitch strike percentage by a significant margin, he’s approaching his work with a competitive, bulldog focus and he’s starting to take off,” says Kim. “We’re definitely excited about what he’s done recently.”
Jordan Romano – The right-hander from Markham, Ont., is making an impressive return from Tommy John surgery at Lansing, as through four starts he’s allowed only three earned runs over 19 innings while striking out 22 against seven walks. A college reliever, the Blue Jays are stretching him out right now. “Bulldog mentality, electric stuff and a plus athlete,” says Kim. “Going through the rehab program, Darold Knowles did a great job with him, and what we saw is that he had the athleticism to repeat a delivery, the natural tools and we decided to give him a shot to be a starting pitcher.”
Angel Perdomo – The 6-6, 230-pound lefty has been gaining notice thanks to the 12 strikeouts per nine innings he’s averaged in 65.1 innings over 14 games, 12 starts, with a 2.48 ERA and a WHIP of 1.056. “Angel has always been a big body, deceptive lefty and guys don’t get good swings off him,” says Kim. “He’s obviously been having a good year.”