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Blue Jays: Circumstances have made Vlad Guerrero Jr. a leader again

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 12: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts while at bat at the top of the third inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 12, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 12: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts while at bat at the top of the third inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 12, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entered the 2021 season with a lot to prove to the Blue Jays. He’s not only answered every tough question that was being asked, he’s exceeded pretty much all expectations. One of the more important ways doesn’t show up on the box score, and that’s how the 22-year-old has morphed into a leader.

That might sound like a silly statement, but I wouldn’t have considered Vlad Jr. as one of the clubhouse’s guiding voices when the season began. With a strong veteran presence like George Springer, Marcus Semien, Randal Grichuk, and more, there was a lot for the rest of the young core to learn, and obviously there still is. However, it’s pretty interesting how much has changed over a little more 60 games.

When this season began Guerrero Jr. took the first important step before they even arrived in Dunedin for Spring Training, and that was to show up in the best shape of his adult life. With a renewed commitment to fitness and an understanding of how it limited him in 2020 and even earlier, the son of a Hall of Famer worked very hard over the winter and the results were easy to see just by looking at him. We all hoped that he was would perform a little closer to his potential, but I don’t think anybody predicted that he’d be on pace to be a legitimate MVP candidate.

At this point it’s hard to imagine where the 32-30 squad would be without him, and even with a lot of successful hitters in the lineup he stills stands out as the clear focal point of the offence. Some of that light might shift a little if and when George Springer can ever make it back for a healthy return, but even then it’s pretty hard to imagine an argument about who is the face of this franchise these days. Even with bright young stars like Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah and Cavan Biggio, as well as more established big leaguers like Hyun Jin Ryu, Marcus Semien, and Teoscar Hernandez, it’s Vlad Jr. that the fans will stop what they’re doing to watch.

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It’s a transition that felt like it would happen eventually unless Vlad Jr really failed to evolve into an All-Star calibre player, but the way that he’s pacing the offence this clearly was something I didn’t expect. Last year it felt like his star has lost some of it’s lustre, and for the first time there were some legitimate concerns about his future as a potential star. Fast forward to today and he’s leading the club in pretty much every offensive category, and has truly carried the lineup on more than a few occasions.

What’s been almost as interesting (nothing tops when a guy is hitting a bunch of dingers) has been the way that he’s evolved into a natural leader for the Blue Jays. His fun-loving personality is infectious, and there’s no doubt that it helps keep his teammates loose and focused on enjoying the game they’re paid to play for a living. That’s an important part of winning that gets lost for a lot of teams, and Vlad Jr. has that way about him.

He also showed a rare glimpse of anger on Friday when the Blue Jays blew a 5-1 lead and ultimately lost to the Red Sox in the first game of the 4-game series. He slammed his glove in frustration when the Red Sox completed their comeback, and he wore a scowl that we don’t often see. I don’t know how much of an impact that had on the rest of his teammates, but Guerrero Jr. showed up to play on Saturday and to help make sure that it didn’t happen again.

The young slugger set the tone with his league-leading 20th home run in the first inning, and finished 1-2 with a pair of walks as teams are starting to pitch around him a little more. It’s been equally encouraging to see him take a walk when that’s what he’s being given, which is another way to set the tone and set the bar. He’s been consistent about leading by example on the field, and it’s clear his teammates are watching him and feeding off of his energy.

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Six months ago it almost felt like Vlad Guerrero Jr. had to prove that he still belonged as a core member of the franchise, and now he’s the clear-cut face of it. With that status comes responsibility, and fortunately the young man just keeps doing things right. We’re already witnessing one the most valuable players in the world, and at this rate of improvement, the sky is the limit for the young superstar.

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