The Blue Jays signed Guerrero Jr. as a 16-year-old last summer for $3.9 million
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the rarest breed of prospect.
A teenager with braces in rookie ball that’s already generating national buzz. A prospect known by some of most casual weekend fans. A mix of name brand recognition and the unknown.
The Toronto Blue Jays fan base is also in a unique state. Alongside the longtime die-hards you now see new followers drawn in by the 2015 run, old fans who’ve circled back to the Jays, or fans from around the league who now consider Toronto something above “the Canadian team”.
And they’re all talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
A large part of this is name recognition. On top of a 162-game season that can become draining even as a nightly television viewer (500 hours per season?..), following the minor league system and top prospects is a chore that few have time for. Blue Jays fans, including the many who are new to the party, may recognize names like Anthony Alford or Rowdy Tellez.
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Those are relatively established prospects who have hit 20, though. Finding a prospect to track right from the age of 16 or 17 is very rare, both due to their unpredictable nature and their lack of easily-accessible coverage. Take Franklin Barreto, traded away in the Josh Donaldson deal, who was a highly-ranked prospect at ages 17 and 18 when playing in the Gulf Coast and Northwest Leagues. Beyond the most dedicated fans and minor league followers, though, who knew more of Barreto than his name?
The familiar name, build, and home run stroke make Guerrero Jr. real, far less of a box-score unknown than any prospect his age. And in that, this new wave of Blue Jays fans will have their first opportunity to watch a potentially star-level prospect rise towards the major league level from step one, which took place this past week in Bluefield.
So while the ability to enjoy Guerrero’s career, and any future success he finds, belongs to all who follow the Blue Jays, he’s a special “first” for a new and younger generation, especially those who grew up launching home runs over left field walls with his father in a video game.
Parallels can be found in the early 90s following the Blue Jays’ World Series Championships. Shannon Stewart, selected by the Blue Jays 19th overall in the 1992 draft, was one of these players for the 90s boom of fans. He debuted in 1995 as a 21-year-old and electrified fans with 51 stolen bases when he played his first full season in 1998.
Perhaps more importantly, this is a conversation about a homegrown impact bat, something the Jays are also hoping to find in the likes of Pompey, Alford, or Tellez.
Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Saunders? Trades. Martin? A free agent.
There are years to go before we know even the first pieces of the answer, that’s the twisted joy in it, but all eyes new and old are already on Guerrero Jr.