Injury to Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could raise durability concerns

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins comments on the injury to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — So, I guess this means we start looking ahead to 2020, right?

Hah. I kid. But on a day when the next one succumbed to one of the banes of a hitter’s existence – Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.’s estimated time of arrival could very well have been shoved back from Stop Asking to Later Than You Like due to an oblique injury – the next next one put on a jaw-dropping power display.

Bo Bichette hit bombs in batting practice – including one out of the confines of Century Link Field – and two more home runs in a Grapefruit League win over the Minnesota Twins. Then he offered hope to Toronto Blue Jays fans; hope for 2019 on a day that was a little unnerving. We’ve never seen a prospect like Vlady, Jr. Therefore, we’ve never seen a prospect like him get injured doing, of all things, swinging a freaking bat.

The one part of his game that was supposed to be bullet-proof.

Hey, all we know about Vlady, Jr., is he is a stud. I mean, maybe he’s never done anything wrong in a game. So it made sense to ask Bichette, who although no longer joined at the hip with him has been a teammate long enough to know these things, how the game’s No. 1 prospect will handle this setback – or any setback in general. There has to have been a o-fer on that resume at some time, no?

"I didn’t see him [Saturday] in the little time I was there because we were going to [Clearwater] and I just saw it before I went on the field that he’s out," said Bichette. "I mean, it sucks but everything happens for a reason and I’m sure he’ll figure out how to get healthy and you’ll see him in Toronto in no time.

"The thing about him like all great players is they figure out a way to make it better the next time. He’s like all of us; he gets pissed off but he gets out of slumps because he’s always trying to figure out how to figure it out."

The silver lining approach to all this is that it will finally end the tiresome carping about the Blue Jays having the audacity to act like, oh, World Series winners like the Chicago Cubs or Alex Anthopoulos’ Atlanta Braves and manage Guerrero’s service time by starting him in Triple-A. My goodness, what a pointless argument. And maybe this will serve as a gentle nudge for Guerrero – no, make that an opportunity – to focus on his conditioning and weight.

I hope I’m wrong, but this doesn’t sound like a three-week thing. Because let’s be realistic: the injury happened after 20 plate appearances over six games; it happened at a time when Guerrero was not ready for the day-to-day demands of baseball at any level. This isn’t a late-in-the-spring or early in the season thing. He’s played back-to-back games just once. When he does get back "on the field," expect to see him DH and get a couple of at bats per game – and go from there. He will essentially be resuming spring training but with shackles on and that’s a long-haul from nine innings on back-to-back days in the field.

Guerrero will most likely start out in Florida – extended spring – and work his way back up. And here’s where you conspiracy theorists can have at it: David Samson, the former Miami Marlins president, ruffled a few feathers on Feb. 13 when he told Sportsnet 590/The Fan’s Starting Lineup that, far from simply waiting until some magic date in late April to call up Guerrero and save a year of free agency the Jays should consider leaving him in the minors until June and delay salary arbitration by a full year.

It’s what the Marlins did with Miguel Cabrera, and, yeah, there were differences between him and Guerrero: Cabrera came up from Double-A to join a team that was three games under-.500 and would go on to win the World Series, protected by veterans such as Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Pierre and Mike Lowell on a team that believed it was in the middle of a window of opportunity and didn’t play in the American League East. That’s not your 2019 Blue Jays.

Still, I bounced Samson’s comments off some Jays folks. They blanched. Philosophically and financially, this front office is well-positioned for Guerrero to be as good as he can as soon as he can, and while the Blue Jays are willing to play the same service games every other team plays, the whole idea of keeping Guerrero down until June was a non-starter, as little more than a great way to poison the relationship with the player and his agent before he’s even hit his first big league homer.

But health is the most mitigating of mitigating factors and while it’s a long way from here to Samson’s thermonuclear contractual option, you wonder whether this muscular injury isn’t going to bring into focus the issue of Guerrero, Jr.’s, weight, most particularly its role as an impediment to durability. As general manager Ross Atkins said in a telephone interview Sunday: "He’s extremely strong for his age, a real outlier, and we want to put him in a position where he can maximize his strength and durability." Note the last word.

You aren’t rousting the elephant in the room when you wonder how Guerrero, Jr.’s weight and body type, combined with the torque on his swing, played a role in this injury and whether it will be a factor in his recovery. The Blue Jays called attention to it when they acknowledged that his listed weight of 200 pounds was just a little off – by 50 pounds or so. And he is at least aware of his weight, telling the excellent Marly Rivera of ESPN earlier this spring that he had made conscious efforts to be more aware of food quality and portion size. I had a scout tell me two years ago that Vlady’s comparable was Twins man-child Miguel Sano. He meant it in a good way (this was when Sano was crushing) but I’ll let you Google Sano and save myself some time expounding on this …

Anyhow, it’s a long way from here to there. Rest assured the Blue Jays will be watching their words and actions even more carefully, especially after the fuss that was created by general manager Ross Atkins’ comments earlier this spring. Our appetites have been whetted, and now the satiation is delayed. We’ll still be dreaming on Vlady, Jr., but he will be removed from the spotlight, doing what his friend and teammate Bo Bichette says he does best: figuring out how to figure it out, the thing that never, ever, ends in this game.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN

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