ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — As the Toronto Blue Jays took batting practice at Tropicana Field Monday, a few dozen spectators watched from behind a roped off-area in front of the backstop. Fans, contest winners, friends and family of players and staff, that sort of thing. Oh — and the best prospect in baseball.
Yes, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was in the building, flanked by a small entourage and wearing the same visitor’s pass as the fans he rubbed shoulders with while the Blue Jays got in their pre-game work. Several Blue Jays ran over to say hello, including Kendrys Morales, Teoscar Hernandez, and Devon Travis. The club’s head athletic trainer, Nikki Huffman, stopped by for a conference as well, no doubt discussing Guerrero’s upcoming rehabilitation from a strained patellar tendon in his left knee.
Guerrero’s been sidelined from the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats for nearly a week with that injury, and he’s expected to miss at least four more as the Blue Jays proceed cautiously with their prized third base prospect. But he was in good spirits Monday, even as his season has been put on hold.
"I feel great. I feel good. Thankfully, it’s not worse than what they thought," Guerrero said through Blue Jays interpreter Josue Peley. "I’m just doing whatever the trainers are asking me to do to make sure that I’m ready as early as I can be."
Guerrero says he doesn’t know exactly how he suffered the injury, only that he felt something was off in his knee when he reached first base after a seventh-inning single during a game on June 2. At the time he thought little of it, and returned to the Fisher Cats lineup after sitting out only two games.
He felt fine during his first game back, but in the fourth inning of his second he reached base, jogged to second on an ensuing single, and immediately motioned to his dugout to be lifted for a pinch runner. Soon after, he was sent to the Blue Jays facility Dunedin, Fla., where the injury was diagnosed after a series of tests.
"I’m not mad. It’s stuff that happens. I didn’t think it was something serious. But we’re here now and hopefully it’s going to get better soon," Guerrero said. "You always like to play. You want to be out there. But I can’t control that I’m hurt now."
For now, he’ll rest. Guerrero says that’s all he knows. He’s fine to walk around and wasn’t wearing a knee brace on Monday. Depending on how he progresses, Blue Jays trainers will eventually begin ramping up his work, and his knee will be re-evaluated at the end of the initial four-week timeline.
"I’ll be honest with you, me just being out there and cheering for my teammates, it’s the only thing I can do. So, I’m going to try to do that 100 per cent and make sure that I’m with them out there," Guerrero said. "And whenever I’m going to be ready, then I’ll be out there on the field. And hopefully it’s sooner than later."
On some level, this setback must be disheartening for Guerrero, who was in the midst of a spectacular season. Over 235 plate appearances, Guerrero was batting a ludicrous .407/.457/.667 with 11 home runs and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21). He’d put up 27 multi-hit games and had at least a hit or a walk in 51 of the 54 games he played.
While a promotion to triple-A seemed imminent, many were calling for Guerrero to be called all the way up to the big leagues, with seemingly little left to prove offensively in the minors. But the injury changes his timeline drastically, and it will now be challenging for Guerrero to reach the majors during the 2018 season.
Still, the 19-year-old struck a positive tone while discussing the situation Monday, saying his focus is entirely on getting healthy and returning to double-A action as soon as possible.
"I’m not frustrated at all. I think this is just stuff that happens — that you can’t control," he said. "I think it was meant to happen, and it happened to me. I’m just going to get better and I’m going to try to go out there and be good whenever I’m ready."