Blue Jays: Why moving Vladimir Guerrero Jr. now is the right choice
The Blue Jay announced that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be focusing on first base rather than at third, and it’s the right decision for the budding star.
I feel like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. eventually moving over to first base was pretty much inevitable, but I don’t think any of us expected the move to take place before he’d played a game of his sophomore season.
That’s exactly what happened on Friday though, as manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters that Vlad Jr. would indeed spend most of his time at first base and designated hitter rather than at the hot corner. It mostly comes as a surprise because the Blue Jays’ coaching staff and front office have been so supportive of the idea of Vlad Jr. remaining at third base, pointing to his youth, inexperience, and even his soft hands and strong throwing arm, rather than focusing on his poor defensive numbers last season.
But disregard all of that now, because Guerrero Jr. will have a new position, and it’s the right decision for his young career.
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Why do I say that? For a number of reasons, starting with what we’ve already alluded to. The fact is, Vlad Jr. was not a strong defender in 2019, ranking as the worst in baseball by some metrics. Yes, it was his rookie season and it was a lot to ask of a 20 year old to have his glove keep up with his quickly developed bat, but there is a long way to go here. I do believe he could become a competent third baseman with more time to develop, but that leads us to the next point.
In this case, I think the smartest thing the Blue Jays can do is let Vlad Jr. focus on what he does best, which is knocking the crap out of a baseball. He didn’t have the rookie season that we all dreamed he might, but he was a very dangerous hitter in the 2nd half as he got adjusted to big league pitching, and I have no doubt that he’s about to take another big step in 2020. I also believe that taking the pressure off of him to play defence at third base will improve his performance at the plate.
We’ve seen it plenty of times before, and we don’t even have to go very far back for an example. As Lourdes Gurriel Jr. struggled to begin the 2020 campaign, I have no doubt that his lost confidence on defence also hurt his performance at the plate. As he struggled on defence and was hitting just .175/.250/.275, the Blue Jays wisely sent him back to Buffalo to get his groove back, and he did just that once he moved to left field, which looks to be a better fit for the talented Cuban. The same thing happened several years ago for Edwin Encarnacion as well, but not until the Blue Jays moved him off of third base and over to the cold corner. That decision obviously worked out.
You could argue that the Blue Jays might be giving up on Vlad Jr. at third a little too early, but I believe the front office is also looking at the long-term with this decision. Whether it’s Jordan Groshans, Orelvis Martinez, or even if Austin Martin ultimately ends up in the infield, the Blue Jays have plenty of options for a homegrown infield. With Bo Bichette at shortstop, Cavan Biggio at second, and now Vlad Jr. at first, the long-term picture really only needs a third baseman.
For now I’m confident that Travis Shaw can handle the job, and the Blue Jays could even retain him for two years based on his current contract structure if they choose. That could buy them the time they’ll need to develop one of their minor leaguers, or they always have the option of moving Biggio to third if another second base option pushes the envelope. That’s part of the beauty of the flexible roster that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have built, and it’s going to work to their advantage over the next few years.
For now, I think the Blue Jays are making the right decision with what could be their most talented hitter. Letting Vlad Jr. focus on what be his greatest skill should help him speed up his development, stay healthier, and most importantly, give him all the confidence he needs to thrive. For those reasons and more, I support the decision, even if it came earlier than I expected.