Vladimir Guerrero Jr. came in as the most hyped prospect in the game despite some other elite players. How has he fared compared to them in 2019?
According to almost every prospect rankings sheet you could find over the winter, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was pretty much universally regarded as the top prospect in baseball, and the most hyped player in Blue Jays’ franchise history.
His performance certainly warranted that type of ranking and the sort of hype that comes with a potential generational talent, but Guerrero Jr. wasn’t alone as far as elite-level minor leaguers on that list. Several of them have already made their MLB debuts, and many more will end up as legitimate big leaguers, whether it’s this season or some time down the line.
While Vlad Jr. has provided a lift to a stale Blue Jays’ offence, he hasn’t been quite as good as some experts thought he would be off the hop, but then again he’s still only had 133 at-bats at the highest level so it’s hardly time to judge him. That said, I was curious to see how he’s performed compared to the other elite prospects that have made their way to the big leagues already, and if anyone has fared a whole lot better.
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After Friday night’s game, Guerrero now has a slash line of .241/.308/.444 in his first 35 games, hitting seven home runs, six doubles and picking up 16 RBI. In his 133 at-bats, he has walked 13 times against 27 strikeouts. He’s been good but not great, as he’s been worth 0.4 bWAR thus far.
Who else was on that list? Well, Fernando Tatis Jr. was frequently considered to be the #2 prospect according to many reputable rankings, and unfortunately he’s dealt with some injury problems this year. He did start the season with the San Diego Padres though and was very impressive. He slashed .304/.374/.549 with six home runs, five doubles, 15 RBI, and six stolen bases in just 28 games and 102 at-bats. It was a short stint, but he also managed to earn 1.4 bWAR before he went down, which is very, very impressive. Now that he’s returned we’ll see if he can pick up where he left off more than a month ago.
If there was any other legitimate challenger for the title of top prospect a few months back, it would have been from Eloy Jimenez of the Chicago White Sox. Like Guerrero, Jimenez hasn’t automatically adjusted to the highest level, although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Right now he’s slashing .227/.278/.383 with six home runs, four doubles, and 14 RBI in 141 at-bats. He’s had the toughest time making contact of the trio, striking out 47 times against just nine walks so far. Jimenez has an unfortunate bWAR rating of -0.7.
As far as others that were inside the top ten on that prospects, Victor Robles of the Washington Nationals has had a reasonable start to his MLB career. So far he’s slashed .238/.314/.429 with nine home runs, 11 doubles, and 25 RBI. Like Jimenez, strikeouts have been an issue as he’s fanned 61 times against 14 walks over 210 at-bats. He has picked up nine steals in 12 attempts and has been worth 1.2 bWAR thus far.
So far I’ve covered the top four on the MLBpipeline.com list, and the next one to see big league experience would be Nick Senzel of the Reds. He’s hit .256/.320/.436 in 133 at-bats, adding four home runs, eight doubles, and 13 RBI. He’s also struck out his fair share so far, whiffing 37 times against 13 walks, and coming in with a bWAR rating of 0.1.
Rounding out the top ten to appear in the big leagues this year is Brendan Rodgers from the Colorado Rockies. The keystone infielder has held his own in his first 49 at-bats, hitting .245/.302/.286 and picking up a pair of doubles. He has struck out 16 times already as well, but he’s still in the earliest stages of his big league career.
We’d be foolish to forget to mention Pete Alonso‘s unbelievable start to his big league career with the Mets, but amazingly he wasn’t in the top ten on the MLB pipeline’s list last year, or even close, as he was ranked 51st in February. He’s shown them the error of their ways so far though, already hitting 20 home runs, 45 RBI, and slashing .260/.339/.595 in his first 227 at-bats. The Mets have had their fair share of disappointments this year, but the slugging first baseman hasn’t been one of them, and he’s already earned 2.3 bWAR and we’re not even at the All-Star break yet.
Austin Riley of the Braves has been on a torrid stretch since arrival in Atlanta and might be at or near the top of the list if he had more games under his belt. He’s already hit nine home runs in his first 84 at-bats, has slashed .310/.348/.655, and has been worth 1.1 bWAR. And last but not least (this could go on for a while), Rowdy Tellez has been solid in Toronto thus far, slashing .227/.283/.426 with nine home runs and 25 RBI, and earning an unfortunate -0.2 bWAR rating.
Getting back to the original question of this article, how has Vlad Jr. compared to his fellow rookies? Well, if we’re looking at his performance compared to Tatis Jr., Jimenez, and Robles in the top four then he’s been solid, albeit behind the level that Tatis Jr. was playing at before his injury. However, it’s been guys that were lower on the list that have taken the league by storm, as Alonso and Riley may end up battling for the NL Rookie of the Year right down to the wire, although the former had a pretty good head start.
All of that said, this is the first season of (hopefully) a long career for all of these players, and their legacy won’t be judged on the first month or two as big leaguers. Each should develop into stars of varying levels at some point, and I’m confident that Vlad Jr. will be at or near the top of the list when all is said and done. Right at the moment though, he’s got some work to do to catch up to the field.