Blue Jays: The argument for breaking camp with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The expectation is that Vladimir Guerrero Jr will likely start next season in Triple-A at least to begin with. Here’s an argument for why that’s the wrong decision.

While the big league season was nothing short of a disappointment for the Blue Jays this season, it was anything but in their minor league system.

We watched exciting prospects like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki and more impress in the big leagues, and several others thrive in the minor leagues, like Eastern League (AA) MVP, Cavan Biggio, who had a .388 OBP, 26 home runs, 99 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 132 games. However, no one impressed more than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Baseball’s #1 prospect had an incredible year split between Double and Triple-A, and one that was broken up by a mid-season injury prior to his promotion. Had it not been for that injury, Guerrero may have forced the Blue Jays’ hand in order to bring him up, even in a season that saw them miss the playoffs by three dozen games in the standings, and finish with 73 wins. He was even named Double-A Player of the Year last week by Baseball America, despite only playing in less than half a season.

He was that good, making a complete mockery of Double-A pitching by slashing .402/.449/.671 with 14 home runs, 19 doubles, and 60 RBI in just 61 games. He followed that up with a .336/.411/.564 line in 110 at bats with Buffalo, proving he was more than capable of handling that level as a 19 year old as well.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Blue Jays will call up Guerrero next season, it’s just a matter of when it happens. The issue of service time has come to the forefront for baseball this year, and Guerrero is one of the poster children for why the MLBPA will need to tweak the system the next time collective bargaining talks come up. In fact, there were even reports that Vlad and his agents weren’t thrilled that he was held back this year, with service time being the only good reason why the Blue Jays would make that decision. It’s a delicate situation, and one that the Blue Jays will want to make sure is handled properly.

Which is why Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins should consider throwing the whole service time thing to the side, and just starting the 2019 season with their best third base option penciled into the everyday lineup.

Despite the fact that he’s still just 19 years old, he’s got nothing level to prove in the minor leagues, and could potentially be the best hitter in the Blue Jays lineup as soon as next season. However, it’s not even about that when it comes to a potential franchise altering player like Guerrero. If the Blue Jays are thinking about the long term, and not just the years of current contract control they have at the moment, they’ll want to show Guerrero how much he’s valued, and that this team is going to be built around him.

Guerrero and the Blue Jays both know that he doesn’t have to start next season on the major league roster, but making that decision would be a gesture of good faith. It’s a move that could prove to the young player how much he’s respected by the front office and how excited they are to have him. Maybe that sounds like a small piece of the puzzle by the time he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2025 or 2026, but it could be the start of building trust for the long term.

You could make the argument that Guerrero just needs to suck it up, and that’s how things normally work for elite prospects. However, Guerrero is anything but normal, having been given the highest ever minor league hit-tool rating in history, even higher than Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. He has an opportunity to be a generational talent, and the Blue Jays should do everything they can to make him feel like he has ownership of this team, and that he belongs to the city of Toronto. As things stand right now, it’s a mixed message being sent to the young phenom, even if it’s being done for the sake of long term control.

I realize that it’s possible they would be sacrificing a year of contract control, but in the long run it might be the right decision for the sake of building the relationship with Guerrero, and for the possibility of having him around longer than just six or seven years. It’s a tough decision, but one I’d like to see the Blue Jays make for the sake of keeping the potential star happy. I’m sure the fans wouldn’t mind either.