He may not have taken the league by storm like some of us thought he might, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. still had a successful rookie campaign in 2019 and there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to his future.
Now that the 2019 season has come to a close for the Toronto Blue Jays, we can really start looking at the season that was and evaluate what happened.
Despite the fact that the Blue Jays finished with a 67-95 record, there were a lot of good things to focus on, especially in terms of the development of their young position players. Ultimately I think Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were even better than we could have expected, and there were several other youngsters that impressed throughout the year.
And then there is the somewhat polarizing figure that is Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
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First things first, I want to be very clear that I think the former #1 overall prospect in baseball had a successful rookie season, even if he didn’t dominate the way that some of us thought he might. He finished the season with a .272/.339/.433 slash line and added 15 home runs, 26 doubles, and 69 RBI over the course 123 games played and 464 at-bats. As I said, not as dominant as some of us dreamed he could be, but he still finished with 2.1 bWAR, which is very impressive for a 20-year-old in his first season at the highest level.
Even the most optimistic of Vlad Jr. fans (I’d put myself in that category) will likely admit that this season revealed a few flaws in the mighty slugger’s game. Despite making a lot of improvements on defence throughout the year, he has a lot of development to do if he’s going to stick at third base. There are also questions about his conditioning, but that’s probably more a case of some lessons learned after facing adversity for the first time as a pro. Let’s face it, he’s made the game look easy throughout his entire life, and now that he has a near-full season under his belt, he’s seen first hand what it’ll take to dominate at this level.
If anyone expected that he was going to arrive in the big leagues and become an instant MVP candidate, then they just bought into the hype a little too much. Even the greatest players in the game’s history needed some time before they got to their highest level of output, and the same will ring true for Guerrero Jr. as he progresses into his MLB career. However, I don’t think that’s cause for concern over the long term, or that anyone should be disappointed in Vlad Jr’s rookie campaign.
Let’s keep in mind that as a 20-year-old he not only held his own against big leaguers, but he also improved as the season went on. While his power stats took a bit of a hit in the second half, he showed growth at the plate by slashing .293/.349/.452 after the All-Star break. He also battled some injuries and admitted to feeling tired down the stretch, but to see improvement as he went on should provide some excitement going into next year.
The reality is, we probably set a bar of expectations that was a little too high for Guerrero Jr., but that’s what comes with the excitement of a generational talent like him arriving in the big leagues. His rookie season may not have been everything we hoped it would be, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success, and in all honesty, he may have been a little bit overshadowed by some of his fellow rookie teammates. Most importantly though, I believe that Vlad Jr. has learned some valuable lessons about what he needs to do to prepare and perform at his best, and that we’re going to see an All-Star calibre player at the hot corner in Toronto as soon as next year. I wouldn’t call any of that a disappointing season.