Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s rapid evolution at the plate
He might only be just 19 years old, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is clearly a student of the game judging by how his plate approach has already evolved at a young age.
While the 2018 season was a whole pile of frustration for Blue Jays’ fans, many of us at least got to take solace in keeping track of Vladimir Guerrero Jr‘s dominance of the minor leagues.
The kid absolutely assaulted pitching at any level he faced, at times making it look like he was a man among boys despite the fact that he was the youngest player on the diamond. He started out by hitting .402/.449/.671 in 61 games in Double-A before he was eventually promoted to Triple-A Buffalo. His dominance didn’t stop there either, as he hit .336/.414/.564 in 31 games with the Bisons. For good measure he tuned up the Arizona Fall Leaguer as well in 19 games, slashing .351/.409/.452 in the short season. All told it was about as good of an offensive season as anyone could have asked for from the teenager.
The numbers are gaudy and borderline ridiculous really, but I think it’s the way he’s adjusting to the game as it comes that impresses me the most. We have to keep in mind again that he was always the youngest player in any league he participating in, and yet he often (always) proved to be the most dominant. There is sheer talent at play of course, but watching the way he studies and adjusts to his competition has been a thing of beauty.
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For example, Guerrero Jr. had 408 plate appearances last season and his ratio of walks to strikeouts is pretty unbelievable, especially for a guy who hit 20 home runs, 29 doubles, and added 78 RBI. In fact, Guerrero walked 37 times, and struck out just 38 times. Yes, you read that right.
His poise at the plate is the work of a grizzled veteran, and yet the young man isn’t even old enough to purchase alcohol in the United States yet. There have been tales of him waiting on a pitch and telling teammates and coaches what he’s going to do to the opposing pitcher, which is downright unbelievable. Most 19 year olds are fumbling around somewhere in college or in the lowest rungs of the minors, and Vlad is borderline calling his shots against grown men.
I think what impressed me most is a tweet I saw from the Athletic’s Emily Waldon the other day. In it she compared Vlad Jr’s swing from the 2018 season to his 2017 approach, and also to that of his father’s. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.
First, I won’t profess to be a hitting guru of any kind. I have a basic understanding of what a player needs to do in order to be successful though, and to me it looks like the 2018 version of Jr. could put on a clinic for almost anyone. There’s nothing wrong with his approach the year before, but there are significant improvements in just one year’s time, and again as just an 19 year old who is also quickly progressing through the minors. Waldon correctly points out that Jr. has made some great adjustments in just a year, and it’s very interesting to note the subtle differences.
Like his father on the far left, Vlad Jr’s approach now is remarkably quiet. You hear player’s talk about “noise in their swing” or “quieting things down” at the plate, and that’s all about how much unnecessary movement is in their approach. There are different philosophies like the leg kick utilized by many power hitters, but for the most part players are trying to find a similar swing path to drive the ball.
Vladimir Guerrero Sr’s approach is a thing of beauty as well, but what I think I’m seeing (again, I’m no expert) is that he’s not quite utilizing all of his power potential in his body with this particular swing. It might be a little different on a different look, or maybe there are two strikes in this particular frame against Sr. Whatever it is though, it looks like he could generate even more power if he pulled his hands back a hair more. I’m not going to tell a Hall of Fame how to do his job, and he did things just fine, but that’s the only “flaw” I can see. We know he obviously didn’t have any problem generating power though, so what do I know.
Vlad Jr. seems to have that same quiet, powerful approach, but it looks like he’s using his hips and shoulders a little bit more to maximize the strength he carries through the ball. Granted, he’s a young man and that could change as he ages and adjust to the game, but his swing looks like pure, controlled power. His 2017 swing in the middle is strong as well, but the difference in a feeling of calm in a year is frightening. I’ll say it one more time, I’m not a hitting expert at all. However, if I’m choosing the swing I like the most out of the three, it’s the one on the far right of the comparison.
It’s obvious that baseball’s number one prospect feels confident at the plate, which is a big part of why his swing looks so great right now. He’s going to be a big leaguer at some point early I 2019, and hopefully he can carry that same confidence and approach into the batter’s box against MLB pitching. The fact that he’s already put together such a great approach at such a young age can only bode well for him now, and also as a starting point for his eventual peak.
Just think about what he’s going to look like at the plate in five or six years. I can’t wait to watch this kid next season and beyond.