Blue Jays: Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr can stick at third base

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. /

While there is almost no question that Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s bat will play in the big leagues, there are conflicting reports on his future at third base.

If you follow the Toronto Blue Jays, there is almost no getting around talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Despite the fact that he’s still playing in Double-A New Hampshire, he’s arguably the Blue Jays most talked about player this season.

The hype hasn’t come without just cause, as the teenager is slugging .407/.455/.685 in145 at bats, and basically making Double-A pitching look like a video game on ‘easy’. The highlight reels and eye-popping box scores are coming almost on the daily lately, and each positive showing is another log on the fire for fans wanting to see him in Toronto.

It’s almost university agreed that his bat is big league ready, but there are other reasons for the Blue Jays holding him back despite the growing fan pressure. Sure, the club wants to save money and maintain contract control, but more importantly they want to make sure they don’t rush the most valuable asset they’ve had, arguably in franchise history. This is a special kid, and you don’t want to mess up his development for the sake of appeasing fans.

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Part of that development is on the defensive side of his game, an aspect of his future that is often questioned. He’s been a third baseman throughout his minor league career, but many scouts expect that he’ll eventually end up at first base, or possibly in right field. If he hits the way that most of us are dreaming he will, it won’t matter what he does on defence, although it’s definitely a bonus if he’s an asset there too, something which the Blue Jays are hopeful of.

Guerrero has notoriously been assigned the first ever 80 grade on his hit tool by MLB Pipeline, something not even Mike Trout or Bryce Harper earned as minor leaguers. Back in March, his defence was rated at just a 45, with the scale running from 0-80. It’s obviously a far cry from how he’s viewed as a hitter, which is no surprise.

Thus far in 2018 he’s committed five errors and has a .937 fielding percentage in 32 games, all at third base. He had 15 errors and a .939 fielding percentage split between Low and High-A ball in 2017 in 102 games played, so he’s on a pretty similar track this year as far as the numbers are concerned. And while there is definitely room for improvement, he’s been holding his own.

It’s also encouraging to see that the Blue Jays are committed to him there, and that he wants to continue as a third baseman too. As far as the reports of his work ethic are concerned, there aren’t any issues there. In fact, it looks like he’s keenly aware of what he needs to improve the most, as he was out on the field three and a half hours before a double-header working on the craft. That’s the kind of commitment you want to see from any player, let alone a 19 year old. Have a look at the video in Ben Bradler’s tweet below. I think he looks pretty good overall.

One argument against bringing him to the big leagues right now is the only obvious position for him would be as the designated hitter, taking over for the struggling Kendrys Morales. While I believe this is a plausible scenario for later in the season (provided the Blue Jays are contending), I don’t think the front office wants to take the glove out of Vlad Jr’s hands at this stage in his development. Equally as important, I’m not sure that expecting him to play defence at the highest level is the best for him either, although it’s hard to doubt him on anything right now.

More than any scout tape, or bloodline pedigree, I believe in the kid because of his work ethic and natural talent. Maybe he’ll never be a gold glover at third base, but he knows that his value greatly increases if he can bring even more to the table in addition to his hitting ability. The more time he’s given to work on that, the better off he’ll likely be, and so far the Blue Jays are doing just that. You can also bet that Vlad Jr., his agent, and his father are keenly aware of the falling value of first basemen/right fielders in free agency, even those that can hit at an MVP level (see: J.D. Martinez).

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His bat will likely bring him to the big leagues before his glove is ready, but hopefully he can continue to make that a priority on the practice field, especially with the presence of Josh Donaldson for at least the rest of this season, barring a trade. My dream scenario would have Donaldson extended and sharing/mentoring the future star, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, it looks like Guerrero is making defence a priority, and based on the talents the young man has in other facets of the game, I have no reason to doubt him.