CHICAGO – At least one observer had a sense of déjà vu watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. this week.
Not only did the 20-year-old hit the first two home runs of his big-league career Tuesday, but he added a line-drive single and hit a 120 mph foul ball that had the visiting dugout buzzing. Among those impressed: Toronto’s major-league coach John Schneider, who was reminded of what he saw from Guerrero Jr. last summer.
“Every day,” said Schneider, who managed at double-A New Hampshire last year. “We had him for 61 games, and we saw that every single day. Just locked in.”
While nobody’s expecting Guerrero Jr. to hit .402 the way he did for the Fisher Cats, his plate approach has clearly improved after some early season struggles. For Schneider, Guerrero Jr.’s takes seem more controlled.
Case in point: he worked a walk in the first inning Wednesday after falling behind 0-2. The next time up, he fell behind 0-2 again, but hit a 107.1 mph. line drive to centre field that Kevin Pillar caught for an out.
“I think it was a matter of getting at-bats,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Don’t forget he missed half of spring training and he didn’t get that many at-bats in the minors. Now he’s playing every day, getting at-bats every day, so his timing’s a lot better.”
If Guerrero Jr. can maintain this timing at the plate, it’ll be welcome news for a Blue Jays lineup that ranks 26th among the 30 teams in runs scored. Of course, no single player can transform an offence in baseball, but Guerrero Jr.’s recent at-bats show that he can do his part.
“We’re expecting that, more or less,” Montoyo said. “Not the two home runs and 120 mph line drive foul balls, but we’re expecting something like that – he’s going to carry us once in a while.”
PROGRESS FOR GURRIEL JR.
Keep an eye on Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who’s making a case for a promotion back to the major-league level with continued success at the plate in triple-A Buffalo. In 24 games with the Bisons, the 25-year-old has four home runs and a .299/.324/.536 batting line.
The last time Gurriel Jr. played for the Blue Jays he was a second baseman, but he has since been playing more left field as he works through the mental and physical challenges presented by throws from the infield. In a way, that creates options for the Blue Jays, who now have Eric Sogard and Brandon Drury handling second.
Should they decide to add Gurriel Jr.’s bat to their struggling lineup, they could consider demoting one of their big-league outfielders. The recently-promoted Jonathan Davis is hitless in 11 at-bats, and Teoscar Hernandez’s struggles continued Wednesday when he struck out in all four of his chances.
“For sure his confidence is down,” Montoyo said of Hernandez. “Everybody can tell by looking at him.”
Billy McKinney hasn’t hit much either, but he bats left-handed and can play right field and first base, which could give him an advantage over Hernandez and Davis, both right-handed hitters.
“When you play National League teams and you have to make so many moves, it’s good to have guys like [McKinney] who play everywhere,” Montoyo said.
All three outfielders have options remaining, meaning the Blue Jays can send them to the minor leagues without exposing them to other teams.
Of course, Gurriel Jr. had issues of his own before being demoted, so the Blue Jays may not be in a rush to make a move. One way or another, he’ll likely find his way to Toronto if he keeps hitting like this.