We’ve only had half of a season to evaluate Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s defensive skills, and while he’s been adequate, the Blue Jays’ system depth could eventually push him to first base.
The All-Star break is a pretty fair time to start reflecting and evaluating on how the season has gone so far, and that’s exactly what Blue Jays fans and writers have been doing lately. It was a first-half with more than enough disappointments, but there were also plenty of silver linings that should make for a brighter future.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t shown us anywhere near the best of his ability just yet, but he’s certainly added an element of excitement to watching the Blue Jays. Of course, he put on a ridiculous show on Monday night during the home run derby, breaking the all-time mark of 91 longballs hit in a single competition, and yet, he still lost to Pete Alonso in the final round. It hardly mattered though, Vlad Jr. made an impression that just showed the baseball world why he is such a highly regarded player, even if he hasn’t thrived yet.
He’s had an up and down first 61 games of his big league career, slashing .249/.328/.413 with eight home runs, 13 doubles and 25 RBI in 225 at-bats. That said, it’s not hard to see the immense talent he possesses in the batter’s box, or to feel confident predicting that he’ll be an elite hitter as he develops. He is still just 20 years old, after all.
While I think we’ve all seen enough signs that he’s going to hit, I think the jury is still out on whether he can stick as a big league third baseman. He’s currently holding a -0.1 dWAR rating according to baseballreference.com, which isn’t bad at all for a rookie that’s still adjusting to the highest level. We also knew that his glove wasn’t going to be as developed as his hitting, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he still needs work at third base. Other stats like his Rtot of -9 (total fielding runs above average) aren’t as kind.
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The Blue Jays could choose to be patient with him at third, and I think they’ll do just that through the rest of the 2019 season, and probably in 2020 as well. However, there may come a time that he’s pushed to first base whether he proves to be an adequate option at the hot corner or not, simply because of the depth coming in the minor league system.
We haven’t seen Bo Bichette make his big league debut yet, but I’m confident that he’s going to be the shortstop of the future, or at the very least will get a few years to show he can be the captain of the infield. Other than Bichette though, there could be a lot of moving parts to fit in the rest of the talented players that deserve to be in the lineup.
Right now Cavan Biggio makes the most sense as the second baseman, and he’s no doubt shown that he deserves a spot in the lineup because of the abilities he brings at the plate. That said, he’s also capable of bringing solid defence to both infield corners, and has been pretty decent in the outfield corners as well. He works fine at second base for now, but it’s not hard to see how the Jays could be tempted to move him to either third or first in order to eventually make room for someone like Kevin Smith (who has had a tough year in Double-A), Santiago Espinal, or later on with Jordan Groshans, for example.
In that case, I think that Blue Jays would eventually be left asking themselves if they’re better off with Biggio at first and Vlad Jr. at third, or if swapping their positions would be the better long term fit. I think there’s still plenty of time for Vlad Jr. to show he can be a defensive asset at third base, especially with the strength of his throwing arm, but Biggio is a solid defender as well with room to grow. Groshans could ultimately fit really well at third base as well, at least if he keeps developing on the path he has so far in his short MiLB career.
It’s not a decision that will have to be made right away, and as I said above, I think the Blue Jays will still give Vlad Jr. plenty of opportunities to stick at third base. However, I can’t help but think a year or two down the road with this group (it’s fun to think about with all of this young talent), and the more that I do that, the more I think we’ll see Guerrero Jr. end up at first base.
After watching what he just did in Cleveland during the home run derby, fans should be confident that he’s going to be a major asset regardless of where he ends up on the diamond. Hopefully the hitting phenom will be able to stick at third base, but if he can’t, the Blue Jays have all kinds of infield depth to set up a pretty impressive group anyway.