By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
I just got back from Manchester, New Hampshire where I got another chance to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (and the rest of the Fisher Cats) in person do unbelievable things.
Even in the New Hampshire press box people are asking questions about Guerrero's length of term in their humble ballpark by the Merrimack River. Here in Toronto, the choruses are growing louder to call up Vlad. But they shouldn't. Here's why.
Is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. undeniably the best prospect the Blue Jays have had (perhaps ever)? Yes, he is. Is he manhandling pitching in the double-A Eastern League? Absolutely. Should he be called up to the MLB fishbowl before he's even out of his teens? Heck to the no.
I was listening to Baseball Central today and I have to say that I agree with Kevin Barker (for a change), who was on with Ben Ennis. Barker argued that you're not going to have a 19-year-old DH and you're not going to ask Josh Donaldson to move over to DH full time. All of this is predicated on getting rid of current designated hitter Kendrys Morales (who can still teach Guerrero Jr. a thing or two about jumping on home plate after a walk-off home run).
And another point Barker made that may have gone unnoticed is that Guerrero Jr. hasn't struggled yet. At any level.
One legitimate argument I've seen about asking whether to call up Guerrero Jr. is that you want to surround him with a good team. This team is in the midst of a culture change but the big league team is encountering some growing pains after a hot start. With questions around the pitching this season (which we all expected to be the anchor of the team), the Blue Jays are really looking for depth and understanding that the club is going to be getting younger. A changeover to the "Vlad Years" is coming but not just yet.
Why should the Jays jump the gun on the "Vlad Years" when the surrounding talent isn't there yet. The Jays haven't been able to really let Anthony Alford show what he's got yet. Ryan Borucki is still looking for more consistency in triple-A and the closer of the future is out indefinitely (and may not ever return to the Blue Jays). Lourdes Gurriel, Richard Urena and Devon Travis have been struggling. Rowdy Tellez is just starting to put things together at the plate. Marcus Stroman is out and Aaron Sanchez hasn't been that good. The solid, youthful core that the club will want to surround Guerrero Jr. with has yet to materialize, with just Teoscar Hernandez showing up and producing. Why start the "Vlad Years" until absolutely necessary?
That's why I'm writing this article. Guerrero Jr. may be doing ecstasy-inducing things at the plate but he's not perfect, nor is he ready. I'll be posting a full scouting report (available for our Premium Content subscribers) soon and you'll be able to read all of the nitty gritty about why I don't think Guerrero Jr. is ready. But the short list is that he's swinging at too many bad pitches early in counts, making too many mistakes in the field and making too many mistakes on the bases. Those mistakes are fine for a 19-year-old third baseman in his third year of playing the position full time. They're fine for a 19-year-old slugger who still needs to adjust to better competition overall. They're fine in the minor leagues.
But if Guerrero Jr. was making the same kinds of mistakes in the major leagues, he'll be slammed for them. Maybe he'll get a brief honeymoon period when we're gaga over everything he does, like we were with Lourdes Gurriel. But if he continues to make mistakes, the media and fans will, hypocritically, be saying that the call was too soon and that they're creating another Travis Snider.
.421/.472/.697 is very sexy. 16 doubles and eight home runs in 39 games is very sexy. 15 strikeouts in 179 plate appearances is very sexy. But Guerrero's not doing that against major league pitching. Not even close. In the games I saw, he faced two pitchers with close to major league calibre stuff. He went 0-for-2 with an intentional walk and hit-by-pitch. One of those pitchers was Scott Copeland, a Quad-A pitcher (and former Blue Jay) who owned the Fisher Cats with his ability to hit spots and mix speeds with a 90 mph fastball.
Guerrero Jr. needs to play every day at third base. He needs to run the bases as much as he can against better and better competition (i.e., pitchers with better pickoff moves, catchers who throw better). He needs to face more pitchers who pitch at or near MLB level.
I wholeheartedly advocate a move up from double-A in about a month. But the move needs to be to triple-A Buffalo where he'll face a lot more pitchers of Scott Copeland's ilk. Pitchers who can command their breaking stuff and hit spots with it. Pitchers who have either premium velocity or premium movement on their fastballs. He needs to play every day in the minors to know which pitches for which he can afford to swing from his heels.
And let's throw the Bisons a bone. Then you can all drive down and watch Guerrero Jr. in a Bisons uniform and watch him smash, and hopefully struggle, figure things out and smash again.
Then let's get him to Toronto and have Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro build a team around him that will take the Jays back to the World Series and begin the "Vlad Years."
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