Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s presence is going to have a significant impact on the Blue Jays, and could be a boost to several of his future teammates.
I was looking at the batting lineup that the Buffalo Bisons used last night, and couldn’t help but dream on the top four or five in the order making their way to Toronto and filling the same type of roles in the future.
The lineup started with Bo Bichette, followed by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and then Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Anthony Alford rounding out the heart of the order. The young men are tearing it up at the moment, especially Guerrero Jr. and Biggio, and I’m willing to bet there’s a reason the lineup was laid out in this way.
As you’re no doubt aware, Gurriel Jr. struggled badly enough on the defensive side of the ball that the Blue Jays had no choice but to demote him to Triple-A. More than anything mechanically wrong with him they need the young Cuban to get his confidence back, and have even kept his playing duties to DH-ing for at least the first few games. They also have him hitting right in front of minor league baseball’s most dangerous hitter, which should give him plenty of good pitches to hit and hopefully allow him to get his game going at the plate.
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As Guerrero Jr. can have that effect at the Triple-A level, I’m willing to bet he’ll have a similar impact once he gets to the Blue Jays’ roster as well. I don’t know for sure where Charlie Montoyo will slot him into the lineup, but with an offence that has mostly struggled, there’s not a lot of reason for easing him in. I mean, both Socrates Brito and Eric Sogard have hit in the leadoff spot, so this is a team that’s experimenting right now.
Montoyo may pencil him in a little lower to start with, but my guess is he hits in the top three in the lineup sooner than later, if not from the first game. If I had my way, I’d bat him third, right in between Randal Grichuk and Justin Smoak, arguably the Blue Jays’ best two hitters. I firmly believe that Guerrero Jr. is already a better hitter than both of the veterans, and I think his presence will have a significant impact on the type of pitches and scenarios that each will face.
If Montoyo uses Guerrero Jr. in the three-hole behind Grichuk, that should immediately improve the pitch quality that the veteran outfielder sees. Opposing pitchers will want to make sure they attack him so they either don’t have to see Guerrero (if Grichuk if their third out), or don’t allow him to come to the plate with baserunners on. Grichuk is a good fastball hitter, and having a dangerous hitter in the on-deck circle will result in an uptick of that pitch. That’s a good thing.
As for Smoak, he won’t have the benefit of the same type of protection in the order that Grichuk would enjoy, but it should change the dynamic of many of his plate appearances. We don’t know for sure that Guerrero Jr. will thrive when he gets to the big league level, but with a career .414 OBP as a minor leaguer, and a strong eye that will draw a lot of walks, Smoak is going to hit with runners on a lot more than he has so far this year, and that’s also a very good thing.
Teams are employing the shift against power hitters like Smoak more and more, but they can’t use it to the same degree with baserunners on. Sure, that’s a pretty basic and straight forward benefit, but don’t discount it. Last year Smoak hit .281/.374/.539 with runners on base, and .289/.400/.535 with runners in scoring position. While there are several variables involved, I would argue that the shift is a significant factor for someone like Smoak, who slashed .242/.350/.457 overall last season.
One player won’t make turn a rebuilding team into a contender, but for those that surround him the lineup, his presence can’t hurt one little bit. With the amount of hype around the 20-year-old right now, he might not even have to hit in the first week as a big leaguer to intimidate opposing pitchers, but something tells me he’ll find a way to show everyone what the hype has been all about, including his future teammates.