TORONTO – Soon after the off-season began, the testimonials started coming in. Those who had seen Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in person were quick to praise his conditioning. Everyone else observed from afar, scrutinizing Guerrero Jr.’s Instagram feed for hints that his off-season workouts were paying off.
But until Saturday, the 20-year-old third baseman hadn’t been heard from publicly. Last we heard, he was tired but determined to improve his conditioning. That was at the end of the 2019 season, a rookie year in which he flashed immense potential before fatigue slowed him down.
At Winter Fest Saturday, Guerrero Jr. said his efforts during last three and a half months are indeed paying off.
“Right now I feel a lot stronger,” he said. “Basically it’s my entire body. I feel a big change in me. I feel lighter and I’ll continue with that. There’s still one month to go before spring training, so I’m not done yet.”
In 2019, he hit .272 with 15 home runs and a 106 OPS+ on his way to a sixth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. On the other hand, he dealt with oblique and knee issues while struggling on defence at times.
Despite the up-and-down rookie year it’s reasonable to expect Guerrero Jr. can produce more in 2020. Generally speaking, stardom awaits the position players who hold their own against big-league pitching at age-20, but Guerrero Jr. knows it all starts with taking the field.
“I just want to be in the lineup every day,” he said. “The rest will come.”
A typical day for Guerrero Jr. involves baseball activities such as throwing, taking ground balls and hitting followed by time in the weight room and cardio work. While he did work out in previous off-seasons, this represents a more deliberate and consistent approach to training than in years past. Already, his teammates have taken note.
“You see the talent and the personality,” said Cavan Biggio. “Now he just wants to get better and better. I think that’s a part of his game where he really wasn’t too educated about it, and it really wasn’t a thing. I think him working out this off-season and really committing to it, it’s something that’s going to take him to the next level.”
“He’s 20 years old,” Biggio added. “He’s still a kid.”
Like Biggio, Charlie Montoyo has been tracking Guerrero Jr.’s progress closely all off-season. The results encourage the second-year manager, especially after the way 2019 ended.
“He felt that he ran out of gas a little at the end in September, and he didn’t want that to happen again,” Montoyo said. “He’s really working hard. I’m proud of him.”
Defensively speaking, no one would call Guerrero Jr. a finished product. Despite good hands and a strong throwing arm, his range was limited and his decision making sometimes cost the Blue Jays. All things considered, he placed 139th out of the 139 players ranked by Statcast’s outs above average metric.
At times the Blue Jays will give Guerrero Jr. a partial day off at DH while starting someone else at third. Travis Shaw may be the leading candidate for that role while Biggio, Breyvic Valera and the recently-signed Ruben Tejada and Joe Panik could all see time at the hot corner, too.
That would be on a temporary basis, though. On Saturday, Montoyo wasn’t entertaining the idea of moving Guerrero Jr. across the diamond to first.
“There’s always going to be that conversation with the kid, because he’s a big kid,” Montoyo said. “But he’s got such good hands that you’ve got to give him the chance to play third. Then if we get to the point that he goes to first, he goes to first. But right now he’s our third baseman.”
In theory, improved conditioning could help Guerrero Jr. in the field and at the plate. Soon enough, the Blue Jays will know just how much those off-season workouts will pay off. In the meantime, their third baseman has another month to get in shape before the grind begins again.