Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t turn 18 years old until next March. Playing with the Bluefield Blue Jays in the Appalachian League this season, his average opponent was over three years older than him.
That didn’t seem to matter for Guerrero, who skipped right past the common debut season of low-output development and was one of the league’s brightest players.
Guerrero ended his season yesterday with a .271 batting average and .808 OPS. Behind Bradley Jones, Guerrero ranked second on the Bluefield Jays with eight home runs, 46 RBI, and 64 base hits. He also tripled three times and stole 15 bases, but his plate discipline might be the most encouraging takeaway of all.
Across 276 plate appearances, Guerrero walked 33 times compared to just 35 strikeouts. This earned him a .359 on-base percentage, and while pitchers at such a low level are not best known for being strike-throwers, this level of control at just 17 years old is very rare. His father was one of the great bad-ball hitters in baseball, but four times in his Major League career he walked more than he struck out over the course of a season.
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The power tool with Guerrero is built in, and his eight home runs this season are more than enough to confirm a belief in this. Officially listed at six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Guerrero’s strength lies in a very strong power base and thick upper legs. Some have questioned whether Guerrero’s body type would hold him back as he climbs the Minor League ladder, but he’s a much more fluid and natural athlete than many give him credit for.
His defensive position will be a point of discussion going forward, and that’s an area where he is not yet natural. Guerrero played 50 games at third base in 2016 and made eight errors in 113 chances. First base and a corner outfield position remain possibilities if third base does not stick long term, but there’s plenty of time to allow that to run it’s course.
As Guerrero ascends from Bluefield next season he’ll be faced with more challenging pitching, and further down the line, stronger off-speed and breaking pitches. That’s always a landmark test for power-hitting prospects, but with Guerrero’s mental game at the plate, there’s reason to believe the hype.
Of course, as with any young prospect, the risk of getting ahead of oneself is very much present. Besides, Guerrero won’t be able to order a beer with dinner until two spring trainings from now. Step one, however, has been a top-to-bottom success.