Blue Jays: It’s too late for reasonable expectations for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
While I’m not suggesting for a moment that I think Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will flop in the big leagues in 2019, our expectations for him may be a tad unreasonable.
Now that we’re just a few weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, the idea of baseball returning soon is becoming real. For fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, that means facing the idea of a rebuilding year for their team, but it also means some pretty exciting debuts as well.
There are a whole host of talented youngsters in the Blue Jays’ pipeline, but none more highly regarded than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the consensus #1 prospect in baseball right now. He was named as the top prospect by MiLb pipeline just last week, and it’s widely assumed that he’ll make his debut early in the 2019 season. It’s possible that he breaks camp with the team, but more likely that he’s brought up after a few weeks in Buffalo, which will serve as long enough to extend his contract control another year in Toronto.
Once he arrives there is bound to be endless excitement, and rightfully so. The Blue Jays have never had a prospect this highly praised, and with the way talk has been going around baseball circles lately, maybe no team has. In fact, MiLB Pipeline did a feature yesterday that asked if Guerrero is the best prospect ever, and based on his performance and the hype surrounding him, it’s a fair question.
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They’re not the only ones that like him either, as you’ll find Guerrero’s name at the top of pretty much any notable list, and his projections for next season are pretty staggering as well. Despite the fact that he’ll be a 20 year old rookie (he’s still 19 until March), the Steamer Projections system has him slated for a .306/.368/.511 slash line, also hitting 23 home runs, 78 RBI, and 31 doubles in 129 games. They also have him projected for 4.8 WAR, which would be good for 11th among position players across the game, and would sandwich him between Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado. So yeah, expectations are huge.
I have no doubt in my mind that Guerrero Jr. is going to be a star, but I do worry a little bit that we’re placing pretty unrealistic hopes on such a young man to begin his career. He’ll have the fortune of playing for a rebuilding team and won’t face the pressure of carrying a playoff team or anything like that in his first year or two, but how are fans going to react if he struggles out of the gate?
We can’t forget that playing at the highest level takes a natural progression for almost all prospects, and Guerrero’s assault on the minor leagues has been pretty unprecedented. There have been other premium prospects before him, but in his age 19 season in Double-A and Triple-A he looked like a man among boys, despite the fact that he was the youngest player in either league. He did slow down a little bit after arriving to Triple-A, as his batting average dropped from .402 to .336, although the latter number was done in just a 30 game sample size, and was surrounded by a brief DL stint as well. His Triple-A slash line of .336/.414/.564 is still dumbfounding for a 19 year old as well, but it showed that he’s at least human.
Am I going to be surprised if he hits .300 and has 20 home runs next year? Not even a little bit. However, I don’t know that Blue Jays fans should be expecting him to hit in the middle of the lineup on day one and thrive, or to assume he’ll be an MVP contender right away. It might take a few weeks, months, or even a season or two before he’s ready to shine at the highest level, and that would be more than fair for any other prospect.
The good news is that the young man is already used to massive hype, and he has an excellent mentor in his father Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.), and with guys like Kendrys Morales on the Blue Jays’ roster. I’m confident that the rookie will adjust quickly, and even perform like a star in his first season, but I’m also doing my best not to set myself up for unfair expectations. When you consider that even recent Hall of Fame inductee Roy Halladay had to endure growing pains as a minor leaguer, it’s not the end of the world if the same happens to Guerrero Jr., or any of the other premium prospects in Toronto these days.
Young Vlad may very well be the best prospect in baseball history, but if he isn’t setting the league on fire in his first few months, nobody should panic. It’ll just be a matter of time anyway, so let’s all make sure we give the kid some room for error here. While he’s done his best to disprove the theory, he is human after all.