MLB

Vladimir Guerrero Jr: Can Blue Jays star surpass Hall of Fame father?

By Sports Desk May 10, 2021

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the real deal. The question is, can he match or even surpass the career of his Hall of Fame father?

Vladimir Guerrero is a name synonymous with baseball. Guerrero Sr. was voted one of the most feared hitters following a stellar career spanning 16 seasons that included an American League (AL) MVP, nine All-Star selections and eight Silver Slugger Awards.

Powerful just like his dad, Guerrero Jr. is now flying the family flag in living up to the hype, spearheading the Toronto Blue Jays' exciting young core in a bid to end their World Series drought, which dates back to 1993.

 

From prospect to star

Guerrero Jr.'s success is no surprise. He had long been on the radar when the Blue Jays signed the top international free agent in 2015. Before making his major league debut in 2019, he worked his way through the minor leagues – initially with the Rookie Advanced Bluefield Blue Jays before opening the 2017 season with the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. He then joined the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays later that year.

John Schneider – part of Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo's coaching staff – was manager of the Dunedin Blue Jays that year, a roster which also boasted Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Danny Jansen, as Guerrero Jr. had 56 hits, 31 runs, six homers, 31 RBI and a .333 batting average.

"Everyone sees the talent and the name obviously because of his dad and all that kind of stuff. But just how intelligent he is… and him as a team-mate and person," Schneider told Stats Perform News. "His team-mates love him. He loves coming to the yard and playing every day, having fun.

"It's been cool to watch him transform himself from a young kid with a ton of talent and having fun to a really established, difference-making major league hitter right now."

Guerrero Jr. – born in Montreal – has 35 hits, 24 runs, seven homers and 23 RBI with a .310 average this season, while boasting a .447 OBP, .549 SLG and .995 OPS – all career highs through 33 games in his third season in the majors. His 456-foot moon shot against the Kansas City Royals has put him in esteemed company in terms of distance this season, while his max 116.1 exit velocity is a number not many in the sport can even dream of matching.

A popular player in the team with an infectious smile, Guerrero Jr. also celebrated an accomplishment beyond even his famous Dominican father achieved – a three-plus homer and seven-plus RBI game last month against Max Scherzer's Washington Nationals as the 22-year-old became the youngest player in MLB history to achieve that feat.

The matchup against the Nationals also featured his third career grand slam. Aged 22 years and 24 days, Guerrero Jr. became the youngest player since Alex Rodriguez (20 years and 345 days in 1996) at the time of his third slam.

"People are drawn to him – players, staff. It's fun to be around him. He comes to the field with a smile every day and he comes every day having fun. It rubs off on guys. It's cool to have him go through the minor-league system with Bo, Cavan, Gurriel and those guys," Schneider said. "They know each other very well, they're comfortable with each other and it's something they've always done. It's easier for them to be themselves now and Charlie does a good job allowing everyone to do that. He has an infectious personality."

In his first 33 games of his third MLB season in 1998, Guerrero Sr. tallied more hits (39), fewer runs (19) and the same number of homers (seven), while he was inferior to his son when it comes to batting average (.307), OBP (.350) and SLG (.535).

"You forget how young he is because of how good he is," Schneider said. "He is always working on things whether it's offensively, defensively or game-planning wise. It's an adjustment period between the minor leagues and the big leagues.

"We've always kind of seen him as a hitter, being this talented and hitting the ball hard. But being able to watch him and look at advanced reports, have a much better plan going into every game has been a big difference. Watching him evolve at first base and third base for that matter has been great. You get the exceptional offense and forget that he is 22 years old and there is always going to be continued development throughout the course of his career."

 

Hard work pays off

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Guerrero Jr. finished with 58 hits, 34 runs and nine homers with a .262 batting average as the Blue Jays returned to the postseason for the first time since 2016. He had one hit as Toronto bowed out in the Wild Card Round at the hands of eventual World Series runners-up the Tampa Bay Rays.

Guerrero Jr. is now reaping the rewards after an intense offseason – shedding the pounds between the playoffs in October and Spring Training in February. He is gliding around the bases and making a mockery of major league pitching.

His walk percentage has rocketed from 8.2 in 2020 to 17.7 this season – a differential of plus 9.5, the largest increase in 2021, ahead of the Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel (+7.7), Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Max Muncy (+7.5), Detroit Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman (+7.5) and Nationals outfielder Victor Robles (+6.7).

In terms of OPS, his increase from .791 in 2020 to .995 (+.205) is the fifth-largest this season, behind only the Boston Red Sox's J.D. Martinez (+.396), Gurriel of the Astros (+.301), Chicago Cubs star Javier Baez (+.208) and Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout (+.208).

Guerrero Jr. has also reached base on 63 occasions through Toronto's first 33 games of the 2021 season. That number ranks eighth all time in franchise history – Jose Bautista (70 in 2014) is first.

"Throughout the course of his career, in the minors, he was always finding himself in good counts," Schneider said of Guerrero Jr's patience at the plate this year. "Part of it was people were very careful with him and I think it's a little bit different in the minors command wise. Now, the biggest thing is that he's doing the same thing – you look up and it's 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 and he is laying off of borderline pitches where I think in his first two years he was putting in play.

"He is laying off those pitches knowing he can put them in play but maybe can't do damage with them. He has the very rare ability to be looking for a heater and get the hanging breaking ball and hit it out. He has better command of his strike zone with the combination of understanding how a pitcher is going to attack him."

Guerrero Jr. is fast becoming one of the elite first basemen in MLB. He is also forming a formidable partnership with team-mate and shortstop Bichette in the field.

In 2021, Guerrero Jr. and Bichette rank eighth for most direct assist-putout combinations by duos with 58 – Texas Rangers pair Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nate Low (86) top the list, which only counts direct throws from one player to the other.

Guerrero Jr. is also fifth for the most total fielding chances in the majors without committing an error (228) this year.

"He has worked tirelessly with Luis Rivera our infield coach at first base but he always been a very, very good athlete," added Schneider. "Getting himself into really good physical condition has really helped him on both sides of the ball. Last year was kind of a crash-course at first base in a shortened season with a long lay-off due to COVID but he has taken it head-on and learnt new things.

"Just little things like when to get a ball to his right and when to go to the bag. It's just coming at you in a different angle than what he was used to last year. He's been doing a ton of reps and has always had the physical ability."

With 216 career games to his name, Guerrero Jr.'s stat line reads – 219 hits, 110 runs, 31 homers, 125 RBI, a .274 batting average, .353 OBP, .457 SLG and .810 OPS. It is not far off his father at the same stage of his career – 258 hits, 129 runs, 39 homers, 125 RBI, .317 average, .361 OBP, .541 SLG and .903 OPS.

Guerrero Jr.'s numbers also stuck up well against some Hall of Fame first basemen, including Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Eddie Murray, Jeff Bagwell and Jim Thome.

Cepeda: 279 hits, 136 runs, 40 homers, 153 RBI, .319 batting average, .350 OBP, .538 SLG and .888 OPS
Perez: 144 hits, 66 runs, 16 homers, 88 RBI, .254 batting average, .303 OBP, .412 SLG and .715 OPS
Murray: 232 hits, 108 runs, 36 homers, 119 RBI, .280 batting average, .332 OBP, .463 SLG and .795 OPS
Bagwell: 216 hits, 110 runs, 23 homers, 120 RBI, .277 batting average, .372 OBP, .426 SLG and .798 OPS
Thome: 180 hits, 104 runs, 30 homers, 98 RBI, .256 batting average, .346 OBP, .449 SLG and .794 OPS

In the grand scheme of things, Vladdy's career is still in its infancy and he has barely scratched the surface of his potential, but he is on track to follow in his dad's footsteps, and then some.

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