Depending on how you look at it, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first few months as a big-leaguer could be considered a clear success or an abrupt reality check.
Guerrero Jr. finished the first half with a .249/.328/.413 batting line, good for an OPS+ of 100 – exactly league average. Considering he’s the youngest position player in baseball, it’s impressive to see him holding his own already. On the other hand, Guerrero Jr. began the season as the consensus top prospect in baseball and one of the best hitting prospects in years. He hasn’t lived up to those Miguel Cabrera comps just yet.
"But, how old is he?" Kris Bryant said at the All-Star Game this week. "Twenty? I was just learning to do my own laundry in college. That’s so crazy. And he’s in the big leagues. I couldn’t imagine being on this stage at that age."
To be fair, even Cabrera hit “just” .268/.325/.468 as a 20-year-old. There’s plenty of time remaining for Guerrero Jr. to justify all the hype.
Still, those first few months are critical in many ways. Already, Guerrero Jr. has had the chance to learn some important lessons at the plate, on defence and even off the field. When asked about their own experiences adjusting to the highest level, all-star third basemen across baseball recalled significant challenges that went along with the excitement of the major leagues.
"It was insane," said Mike Moustakas.
"A humbling experience," said Nolan Arenado.
"I struggled," Matt Chapman acknowledged.
Those words are worth keeping in mind as Guerrero Jr. takes the next steps of his big-league career. Now Bryant, Moustakas, Arenado and Chapman rank among the game’s best third basemen, but those first few months in the majors weren’t always easy…
"I remember getting called up in Anaheim. I played in front of my family and friends, so it was crazy. Just learning everything about the big-league life. Getting on charter flights, not having to unpack your own (luggage). It was cool. Obviously, there are differences. Tipping clubhouse (attendants). It’s just a lot. The veteran guys really helped me out when I first got there and I think that’s huge. That was huge for me in my career.
"Baseball’s still baseball when you get back on the field, but it’s the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t realize. All sorts of stuff. I was fortunate. We came up (in Kansas City) with 13 rookies at once, so we all kind of learned together. It helped us out a lot. We learned a lot together, went through the ups and downs together and that’s huge when you play 162 games. You get really close as family and friends. It makes everything that much easier."
2015 Rookie of the Year, 2016 NL MVP, three-time all-star
"It’s just adapting to the attention. Obviously, he’s gotten a ton of it since last year in spring training, but he seems to be handling it great and seems to be a great kid.
"It says a lot about him and how he’s grown up. His father, obviously being an influence in his life. Just a super-cool story."
2019 all-star, 2018 Gold Glove winner
"There’s definitely an adjustment. Especially with him having so much attention and so much pressure put on him, they put a lot of pressure on him and that probably doesn’t even account for the pressure he puts on himself.
"For me, the best advice I could give him that I learned in my first couple months was I didn’t come to the big leagues and just tear it up right away. I struggled. I got hurt when I first came up then I came back and I bet I was hitting .190 through my first 100 or so at-bats.
"For him to just continue to work hard. That’s the thing that helped me the most: accepting the fact that this is the last level you have to get to. It’s not supposed to be easy. You’re not going to be able to just kill it in the minor leagues and then come up and just take the game by storm. There are so many good players.
"For me it was, ‘OK, what do I need to do today to get better and how do I do it?’ Just continue to take those little tiny steps and work hard. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but finding a routine and finding all the things that make me go (mattered).
"If you don’t feel good, what do you have to do? I’m still building my routine, but that structure and that routine and attention to detail and focus allows you to make those strides and be consistent. That’s definitely what helped me because until I got to the big leagues, I didn’t really understand what any of those things were.
"Also I think the speed of the game (defensively) can be an adjustment because you’ve got guys like Dee Gordon who can go up there and bunt and handle the bat well. It’s just about positioning and learning what guys are going to do. It’s just that mental side that helps you get to that next level."
Three-time NL home run leader, four-time Silver Slugger, five-time all-star, six-time Gold Glove winner
"It was a mixture of a lot of things. The preparation of how to prepare for a major-league baseball game and making sure you’re taking care of yourself and getting yourself prepared to face whoever you’re facing. Doing your homework. Watching video.
"In the minor leagues when I was there you kind of just winged it. You went out there and played. These guys (in the majors) are just so good that you have to pay attention a little bit more and do your homework a little bit more on what they’re trying to do. What the pitches look like. I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older in this game. When I got called up, I knew I earned it, but it was a humbling experience my first year just knowing how good these guys are.
"You can create some bad habits (defensively) on minor-league fields with bad hops. I feel like that’s what I did. Sometimes you learn to not take your offence to your defence. I learned that at a young age. There’s little things like that. Knowing the ball can be hit your way at any time. You learn that and it prepares you for up here."