The Toronto Blue Jays issued Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a challenge with step one of his professional career, assigning him to the rookie-class Appalachian League. Despite his profile as one of 2015’s top international prospects and the high bar set by his father’s legacy, Guerrero Jr. has still outperformed early expectations.
Ben Badler of Baseball America joined Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling to discuss Guerrero Jr.’s first season and long-term projections.
“He’s special,” Badler said on At the Letters. “We ranked him as the No. 1 International prospect last year and it’s always good when players come as advertised. In fact, probably better than advertised.”
Guerrero Jr., who’s now considered the Blue Jays’ top prospect, played in 62 games with the Bluefield Blue Jays last season, hitting .271 with eight home runs, 12 doubles, three triples, and 46 RBI. He complemented these raw power numbers with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was nearly even (35 strikeouts, 33 walks), giving him a .359 on-base percentage. All of this was done playing in a league frequented by high school and college draftees who are, on average, over three years older than him.
That well-rounded set of offensive tools, Badler believes, will help Guerrero Jr. develop into a premium, middle-of-the-order “masher” with the potential to top 30 home runs later in his career.
“Ferocious bat speed, outstanding hand-eye co-ordination,” Badler said. “Whether it’s a premium velocity fastball or a sharp breaking ball, it doesn’t matter. He can square it all up.”
Soon after officially signing Guerrero Jr. with a $3.9 million bonus in 2015, the Blue Jays surprised Badler and many prospect evaluators by moving him to third base. Guerrero Jr.’s defensive mobility and arm strength were widely questioned as a corner outfielder, leading to some project him as a first-baseman long-term, but the transition has gone smoother than expected.
“Credit to the Blue Jays and to Vladdy Jr. because so far, so good at third base,” Badler said, noting that his short-area agility had improved with the position change. Guerrero Jr. also surprised with 15 stolen bases in 20 attempts, so while that’s not likely a tool that will translate through the upper-minors to the MLB level, it still demonstrates the raw athleticism in his built-for-power body.
The shift from left field to third base also brought advancement with his throwing arm, which benefited from a year of physical development and the shorter throwing motion required in the infield.
“If he can stay at the position,” Badler said, “he’s even more valuable than I thought he was going to be coming into the year.”