Blue Jays’ Shapiro on Vlad Jr.: ‘He couldn’t be pushing himself harder’

Mark Shapiro spoke about the Blue Jays' potential interest in free agent starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and what challenges and advantages will affect their plans.

The MLB off-season is just beginning to get underway, but Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is already hard at work with an eye to his sophomore season.

Many Blue Jays got a glimpse of Vlad Jr.’s workout regimen earlier this month, thanks to a video posted by teammate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (also featuring a costumed Rowdy Tellez rooting him on). In the video, fans saw a noticeably trimmer 20-year-old jumping rope at the gym.

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro saw a young star committed to taking ownership of his career.

“It’s going great,” Shapiro said when asked about how Guerrero’s off-season is going during an appearance on The Starting Lineup on Thursday. “Ross [Atkins] is down there now and met with Vladdy. When I talked to Ross on the phone the other night, Ross was blown away. He said he’s getting after it, he couldn’t be pushing himself harder. And that has to continue through the off-season, but I think to set that tone, to approach it on his own, in the end every single player has to take ownership over his own career.”

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Questions about Guerrero’s conditioning came early and often in his rookie season. While fans and management saw a budding slugger with a penchant for hitting dingers, they also saw a rookie whose conditioning wasn’t up to major-league standards and put him at risk for injuries.

Atkins told reporters after the Blue Jays’ season ended that management had been “very clear” about its expectations of Guerrero as he prepares for his second major-league season.

“Vladdy has talked about it. And I’m certainty comfortable talking about that. We’re being very clear. He knows he has to come in in overall better condition,” Atkins said on Oct. 1. “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.”

Clearly, Guerrero took that message to heart — something Shapiro praised Thursday.

“We can give guys feedback, we can present them with the best information and the best resources, the best coaching, the best facilities and the best guidance but a player has to take accountability and ownership of his own career and he has to make that decision for himself — just like any of us in our own lives,” Shapiro explained. “So to see Vladdy having made that decision that, ‘OK, I’ve gone through that first major-league season, I’ve seen what it takes to survive the grind up here, I’ve seen what the best players do, and I need to make that adjustment along with some other adjustments.’

“I think we all know and recognize that if he does do that, if he takes care of that piece of his business, the other aspects of his baseball playing are going to certainly fall in line and continue to get better and we’re going to have a special player on our hands.”

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