SAN FRANCISCO – Lately, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has looked like a player on the brink of a breakout. His plate discipline has been better, and the ball has been leaving his bat on a line more often.
The numbers weren’t there, but the skills that made him the best prospect in baseball were on full display.
Well, it’s happening. With a 3-2 count in the first inning Tuesday, Guerrero Jr. connected on a Nick Vincent fastball and sent it over the centre field wall at Oracle Park. Even before it landed 438 feet away, Guerrero Jr. realized he had his first major-league home run.
"I did know," he said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I made very good contact. I hit it on the barrel and I knew it was going to be good."
"This is the first of many," his father tweeted. "I’m proud of you, boy."
Vlad Guerrero Sr. would soon have even more to celebrate, as his 20-year-old son was locked in all night long. He singled in his second at-bat and walked his third time up. Then, with two on in the sixth, Guerrero Jr. sent another ball over the centre field wall. This one went even farther than the first — 451 feet.
"Destroyed," one scout said. "He’s a monster."
Mi hijo este es el primero de muchos, orgulloso de ti negro. || This is the first of many, im proud of you boy. https://t.co/8zzj9iOPIY
— Vladimir Guerrero (@VladGuerrero27) May 15, 2019
Suddenly, those early-season struggles seem pretty distant. This performance did more than lead the Blue Jays past the Giants 7-3 and did more than assure Trent Thornton of his first major-league win. Guerrero Jr.’s two-homer night showed definitively what’s been assumed for years: his power, contact skills and plate discipline allow him to do things most major-leaguers can only dream of.
"He’s that good," manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He could carry a team if he gets hot. I don’t want to put that much pressure on him but that’s the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He can do stuff like that."
Guerrero Jr. started his major-league career quietly, with just two doubles and seven singles over the course of his first 13 games for a .191 batting average and .517 OPS. Still, the Blue Jays believed a turnaround was coming.
"He’s having better at bats," Montoyo said before the game Tuesday.
As one longtime baseball person said, "That couldn’t last forever."
It didn’t. By night’s end, Guerrero Jr. was responsible for the three hardest-hit balls in the game and that’s not even counting the 120 m.p.h. line drive he pulled foul before walking. Reinforcing how rare that is, Giancarlo Stanton’s the only player to hit a ball harder than 120 all year.
"That’s why he’s special," Montoyo said. “He wasn’t pressing. He was having fun. It’s unbelievable. He doesn’t care. He just plays.”
Meanwhile, Thornton pitched into the sixth inning for his first major-league win — a milestone that holds significance at field level even as front offices and fans have shifted towards more advanced metrics. Securing that win offered some relief for Thornton, whose teammates drenched him and Guerrero Jr. with all manner of substances in celebration after the game.
“It’s something I was thinking about every time," he acknowledged.
Adding to the significance of the win, his parents made the trip from North Carolina to watch the game in person. They had plenty to cheer for, as the right-hander became the first Blue Jays pitcher ever to collect two hits in his batting debut.
“I just wanted to make contact," he said. “I just closed my eyes and swung and got lucky two times.”
Of course, he wasn’t the only one making history. At 20 years and 59 days Guerrero Jr.’s now the youngest player ever to homer for the Blue Jays, passing former two-sport star — and current Boston Celtics general manager — Danny Ainge, who did so in 1979. In that sense, the top prospect is ahead of his father, who first homered at the age of 21 for the 1996 Expos.
More than two decades later, Guerrero Jr. will give his father the balls and bat from this two-homer game. In a congratulatory call late Tuesday night, Guerrero Sr. reminded his son of some useful advice.
"Like I always told you," he said. “Don’t look for home runs, they are going to come."
They did for Guerrero Sr., whose Hall of Fame pedigree contributes to the outsized expectations now facing his son. For a while there, the hype didn’t line up with the production.
After Tuesday, though, we no longer have to wonder what it looks like when Guerrero Jr.’s at his best. Now it’s just a question of how often he can repeat it.