TORONTO – Have you seen the video of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. making like Shakira at third base?
If you haven’t, or simply want to watch it again, here it is.
— Vladimir Guerrero (@VladGuerrero27) October 15, 2017
That’s real good fun, and just imagine the conniptions they’ll be having in Texas one day. You can already hear the holier-than-thou tsk-tsking.
Still, demonstrating that hips don’t lie on a baseball field isn’t why the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospect is suiting up for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic. While playing winter ball “is probably something he’s dreamed of ever since he was a little kid,” says Blue Jays player development director Gil Kim, “it’s really great encouraging for us that at the same time Vladdy has specific goals that he’s working towards.”
“It’s a step up in competition level. It’s exposure to a higher level,” explains Kim. “Priorities are defensive footwork and range (at third base). He’s committed to his physical development as we’ve referenced many times, and he’ll be working out with one of our strength coaches a couple of times a week. So he’s excited.”
The 18-year-old slashed .323/.425/.485 over a combined 119 games at low-A Lansing and advanced-A Dunedin this past season. More impressive is that he walked 76 times against only 62 strikeouts, demonstrating a command of the strike zone rare for any player, let alone a teenager.
Where he opens up 2018 is the subject of much conjecture. A start at double-A New Hampshire is possible, but right now less likely than a return to Dunedin. He’s positioned for a quick promotion with a strong opening. In the interim, he’s getting tested in ways he hasn’t before playing in the Dominican.
“There’ll be some nights he’ll be facing a couple of big-leaguers before a packed house, and then there’s other nights where there might be more A-ball type guys,” says Kim. “What you do get consistently is a pressure-filled environment and talented players. It’s a different type of environment and it really helps players improve in handling pressure situations.”
Here are some other news and notes on Blue Jays playing in winter leagues and from the farm system:
• Kim confirmed the firings of New Hampshire manager Gary Allenson, Vancouver manager Rich Miller and Lansing pitching coach Willie Collazo and said no further changes are expected. “It’s always difficult when you have to make changes at the end of a season. At this point, we’re comfortable with what we’re lined up for,” says Kim. “There are some key hires coming up this off-season and we’ll move forward and hire the best people that we can.” Asked if some of the openings could be filled internally, Kim replies, “That we’re working through.”
• On the last day of the season Teoscar Hernandez said he planned to work on his discipline at the plate and spin recognition while playing for Toros del Este in the Dominican. The Blue Jays also want him getting more reps playing both corner outfield spots, as his minor-league experience is predominantly in centre. “He’s going to get exposed to some different positions (in the outfield) and fine-tune some adjustments he needs to make at the plate,” says Kim.
• Max Pentecost, a first-round pick in 2014, caught 20 games this season at Dunedin and he’ll continue to get more innings there in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll also get some work in with Ken Huckaby, the Blue Jays’ catching co-ordinator who lives in the area. “With Max, it’s about getting behind the plate and getting some more at-bats,” says Kim. “He’ll be working on his defence with drill work in between his game appearances. He’s not going to catch every day but hopefully we would increase his workload behind the plate in the 2018 season. Not sure exactly how many times a week that would be. This is just a way to get him more at-bats and more experience.”
• Right-hander T.J. Zeuch, a first-rounder in 2016 who missed time this year with a back injury, is also with Peoria in the AFL and threw three shutout innings with four strikeouts in his first outing. “T.J. is a polished pitcher,” says Kim. “Obviously he got off to a great start the other night and it’s about gaining some innings.”
• Cuban Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is also playing catchup after missing time this year with a hamstring injury, at the plate but especially in the field. “With Gurriel, it’s maximizing his defensive time at shortstop and catching up on at-bats. First pro ball season in the United States, we’d like him to gain that experience. The focus in the AFL would be on getting him more innings at shortstop, but that’s not to say he won’t be playing second base.”
• Right-handers Adonys Cardona and Kender Villegas, plus lefty Nicolas Medina, are the only three Blue Jays playing winter ball in Venezuela, with Latin America advisor Omar Malave managing Magallanes. The Blue Jays have asked him to keep an eye on their players, “just to make sure it’s safe for everybody,” says Kim, with the country mired in deep political, economic and humanitarian crises. “The situation in Venezuela is one we’re definitely aware of. We’ve already brought some Venezuelan players to the U.S. We’re planning on opening up the Dominican academy over the off-season a little bit more frequently and with Omar as a contact person there, we trust him. We trust the Venezuelan winter league. They’re aware of the situation, too, and they’re doing everything there can to protect the players. It’s unfortunate because it’s such a great winter league and such a great development environment. But that’s the unfortunate part of the situation right now.”