Blue Jays: Conflicted about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the home run derby

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 11: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays takes batting practice before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 11, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 11: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays takes batting practice before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 11, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will become the youngest player in MLB history to compete in the home run derby, and I’m a little bit conflicted about it.

After the Blue Jays wrap up their current series with the Baltimore Orioles they’ll then join the rest of the league in taking a short rest for the All-Star break.

We don’t know if Marcus Stroman is going to be healthy enough to pitch as the Blue Jay named to the American League roster, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be there to participate in the festivities, and also to compete in the home run derby. The uber-talented 20-year-old will become the youngest hitter in MLB history to participate in the derby as he’s even younger than Ken Griffey Jr. was when he first appeared, and he’ll square off against a list of stars that includes Christian Yelich, Joc Pederson, Alex Bregman, Pete Alonso, Carlos Santana, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Josh Bell.

I’ll admit that I’ll be tuning in just like the rest of you for what should be a fun event to watch, but I also have to say that I have conflicted feelings about the Blue Jays’ young star participating in the contest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, so please hear me out before you roll your eyes too hard.

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I’m not one that subscribes to the theory that the home run derby can wreck a player’s swing, but I have to admit I’ve cringed a bit this week, even when my jaw has been on the floor at the same time. You’ve no doubt seen the videos of Vlad Jr. smashing baseballs into the left field stands during batting practice before his games, as he’s made a specific effort to prepare for the derby a bit in advance.

His ability to absolutely crush baseballs into the stands is enough to make anybody turn their head, but I’m not huge on seeing him practising right before a game that he’s scheduled to play in. It’s not the end of the world, but he’s also just 2-19 since the calendar flipped to July, granted with five walks though as well. It might not be the home run practice that’s caused the mini-slump (or the good eye?), but I’m not sure that it’s the best way to help him get out of it.

The other part that is a little strange is that MLB chose Guerrero Jr. for this event even though he only has eight home runs on the season. I realize the participants aren’t selected solely because of their place among the league leaders, otherwise we’d be watching Edwin Encarnacion, Cody Bellinger and others in place of a few that were named. The league does have to get the players to accept the invitation, but Vlad Jr. is a long way from the top of the leaderboards, even if we account for his late start to the season. Carlos Santana would be the next lowest total at 19, and he plays for the Cleveland Indians, who are hosting the All-Star festivities this year.

I do have faith that Vlad Jr. is mentally tough enough to participate in this contest and not let it affect him regardless of the outcome, but I think I’m most worried about the idea that he could win. Let’s face it, smashing batting practice fastballs is not the same thing as hitting against big league pitching, but it’s a skill that Guerrero Jr. can absolutely turn into a show. That’s why the league wants him there to begin with.

If he ends up winning though, how can he not let that affect the way he thinks at the plate, at least a little bit. I know he’s up there trying to hit the ball hard every time anyway, but at 20 years old and in his rookie season, I just want to see him continue to use a balanced approach. I really believe that’s part of what does and will make him so special, and he doesn’t have to hit home runs in order to impact the game. I realize home runs are being hit at a never before seen rate, but the Blue Jays lead the big leagues in dingers since May 16th and have a losing record during that time.

All of that said, I’ll openly acknowledge that I’m overthinking this, maybe even a lot. But when you have a potential generational talent like Vlad Jr. in the earliest stages of his career, I still think about his development all the time. I really want to see him become the best version of himself that he can be, as he very well could be the centrepiece of the next championship contender in Toronto someday.

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That last word “someday” is what makes me shake my head a little bit that I’ve put this much thought into the whole thing, and that I’ve even gone as far as writing about it. I’m sure it will be a fun afternoon and a blip on the radar of his eventual greatness, but I just hope it doesn’t cause a hiccup for him at all either.