Q&A: Blue Jays icon Delgado on Guerrero Jr., baseball’s evolution

Carlos Delgado. (Bernie Nunez/AP)

TORONTO – Walking around the Rogers Centre in a tidy blue golf shirt tucked into stylish jeans, Carlos Delgado still looks fit enough to play. The 47-year-old Toronto Blue Jays icon laughs off the suggestion, the wonky hip that ended his career prematurely limiting his exercise to cycling, just enough to counterbalance his passion for food.

"These days I’m just playing for the tie," he quips.

Delgado’s visit to Toronto this week is about far more than that, as he’s leading a group of 21 donors from his native Puerto Rico through a unique baseball trip to raise funds for his charitable foundation, Extra Bases. He’s taken the group on a tour of the Blue Jays clubhouse, introduced them to players and showed off some of the city.

The money raised will be diverted to groups working with children in Puerto Rico.

“We started 18 years ago and like anything, you start small," says Delgado. "We’re still not a big organization but we have built some credibility, we’ve made some great partnerships with other groups, and especially after Hurricane Dorian, we’ve been able to expand some of the projects we’ve done. Our main focus is to help centres and organizations that work in areas of preventive health and education and sports, and to create awareness that there’s a need out there and the government can’t take care of it all."

In between his duties, one of, if not the best offensive player every produced by the Blue Jays found some time to talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the similarities between Vladdy, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio and the rise of Delgado, Shawn Green and Alex Gonzalez, and how he would have fared in today’s high-fastball, low-breaking ball game.

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Sportsnet: Carlos, when you were 20 years old, you were posting a .982 OPS in advanced-A Dunedin. Guerrero’s going to finish with an OPS around .800 in the big-leagues at the same age. What’s your assessment of how he’s looked thus far?

Carlos Delgado: "Vladdy is special in every sense of the word. When I was working with the Blue Jays in the minor-leagues, I got the opportunity to see him when he was in low-A Lansing and then in high-A when he went to Dunedin in 2017. Even then you saw that raw talent, you could hear that the sound off his bat was a little different than other people. And when you had a conversation with him, you could tell his head was more advanced than the usual 17-year-old.

Obviously, he’s been exposed to the big-leagues by his dad, he was running around a big-league field since he was probably two years old. I’m happy to see him do well and he’s only going to get better. He’s going to get more consistent. His pitch selection is going to get better. He’ll always have his aggressiveness but he’s going to pick and choose his spots better. When you’re that young, I mean, we’re immature (as hitters). He’s going to be great. Hopefully he can stay healthy."

Sportsnet: What do you make of the way players are reaching the big-leagues younger now than back when you were playing (Delgado debuted at 21 but didn’t become a regular until his age 24 season)?

Delgado: "There are always going to be special individuals and you have to challenge them and push them a little quicker than other guys, just because they need that challenge. They have the ability and they need to be exposed (to the majors) a little quicker. Vladdy is one of them. Bo is one of them. You want to be careful with your young prospects in the minor-leagues but if they’ve proven that they can play, you have to push them along the way. You want to see the Blue Jays being in contention and winning but in this rebuilding process, it’s a good opportunity because, I don’t want to say you can spare at-bats, but you can give them extra at-bats, you can give them a little bit more time, you can let them fail and figure it out on their own. And that’s only going to make them better."

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Sportsnet: You came up as part a highly touted prospect threesome with Shawn Green and Alex Gonzalez, building up a friendship together along the way. Do you see any similarities with Guerrero, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio?

Delgado: "Well, they’re definitely better than us, you know? I guess you can make the analogy of three guys coming through the system, good friends and got there at the same time. I think it’s pretty cool. It makes the transition easier. If you get to the big-leagues by yourself and you don’t really know anybody, it probably takes longer until you get used to people in the clubhouse. So it’s nice when you see familiar faces."

Sportsnet: Your group was part of some good teams but you never had enough of a supporting cast to get into the post-season. What lessons from that time would you pass on now so that this group doesn’t find the same fate?

Delgado: "You need hitting, but you also need pitching. I don’t want to knock on some of my ex-teammates that pitched at the time, but when you’re in the American League East, you’re going to face Boston and the Yankees 40 times and they’re going to spend money to put good teams on the field. It’s hard to go out there and battle when you don’t have a great pitching staff and it’s hard to get. There are only so many good pitchers out there and they usually go for a lot of money and when you’re in a rebuilding process, it’s tough to spend that kind of cash. So it’s always a good battle, regardless of whatever supporting cast. You should have enough pride to go out there and try to do your best. But it does help when you have some good arms."

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Sportsnet: The pitching trends these days are high-velo fastballs up in the zone paired with breaking balls in the lower half of the zone. Would you have liked to hit in this game, or did you prefer hitting against the pitching style from your days?

Delgado: "This is my thing and this is much easier said than done, but when I watch the game, I sense that a lot of guys are trying to hit the pitcher’s pitch. My approach was I’m trying to hunt my pitch early in the count, in leverage counts and we’re always better when we swing at strikes. We talk about (pitchers who) elevate, but an elevated fastball is actually a ball. So if you can put yourself in a good position and recognize that, you don’t even swing at it. Like I said, easier said than done.

"I see a lot of guys putting a lot of energy or cover something that’s not a strike or not their strength. My thinking would be I want to get better in the areas where I can do damage and then battle with two strikes. They definitely throw harder now but when you’re seeing 95, 96 every day, it’s like anything else, you get used to it. And for these guys, they’ve been seeing it since the minor-leagues, too. I don’t think that’s that big a deal.

"It’s important now how you process all the information. Now you’ve got so much information, that those numbers can literally throw you a curveball. Especially if you get all this info and you can’t process it to make it work to your advantage. If I don’t understand or I can’t narrow it down to create a plan and actually execute it, I’m fried. I’m not trying to minimize the way I prepared for the game, because obviously there was a lot of preparation involved. But at the end of the day, we’re better when we’re ready to hit, hunting our strengths and swinging at strikes."

Sportsnet: Would you have wanted all the data available to today’s players?

Delgado: "I really would have liked to see it. But at some point, you have to see the ball, and you have to trust yourself that you’re here because you’re good, doing this for a long, long time. You ask any good hitter, they’ll tell you, ‘When I’m seeing the ball well and I’m swinging at strikes, I’m better.’ Again, easier than done. Ask any guy that’s struggling and he’ll say, ‘Man, I’m chasing,’ or ‘I’m a little anxious,’ or, ‘My timing is off.’ The guy out there is trying to get you out. He throws 95, 96 but you see that all the time, so it’s about trusting your hands and trusting your preparation and getting ready early enough that you can recognize and then hunt the area you’re looking for."

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