By: Lucas Reyes
He’s here, and it’s even scarier than we originally imagined.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t only meeting expectations, but he’s annihilating them. And he only turned 22 in March.
It started right when the 2021 season commenced. Guerrero Jr. played exceptionally well through the first couple of weeks, but not everyone was convinced he was here to stay.
He then went through a mini-slump at the beginning of May, and many people thought this was him coming back down.
But then he immediately came back and was even better.
All of this is incredibly special, and it takes more than just looking at one of his towering home runs to really understand how special this is, especially when you watched him work his way up from the moment he signed at the tender age of 16.
A Rocky Start to a Polarizing Career
It’s common to see superstar prospects come up and show flashes of brilliance, but also flaws and immaturity.
This was exemplified through the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Bo Bichette, and many other younger talents. Much brilliance, but with many flaws commonly found in young players.
It’s not to say that Guerrero hasn’t dealt with these issues. If anything, he’s dealt with it more than any of the players mentioned above.
When Guerrero was called up, it was early during a 2019 season that saw the Toronto Blue Jays in the midst of a rebuilding phase.
The buzz electrified the city for a bit in the days leading up to April 26, a night where the Blue Jays hosted the Oakland Athletics in an otherwise mundane regular-season game. The city was waiting for the greatest Blue Jays prospect in years to come, and it was his time to shine.
He started his career off with plenty of promise, as Guerrero went one for four with a ninth-inning double down the right-field line, and also mashed a deep fly ball earlier in the game that got robbed over the wall by Chad Pinder in left field.
This game left the city with plenty to be excited about going forward, but then he started to regress. He wasn’t looking like the player the world saw down in AAA anymore.
It even took him 18 days after his debut to finally hit his first career home run, as he went deep twice against the Giants at Oracle Park in San Francisco. While it was exciting, it felt more like a relief than anything as it took longer than fans expected.
A while after his debut, it seemed as if the buzz had worn off a little, and questions started to rise about the legitimacy of a once generational prospect.
As more time went on, more questions started to be raised, as he was quite stagnant over the entire season.
He wasn’t bad, but “not bad” isn’t what anyone was hoping for out of such a generational prospect.
The Next Step That Never Really Was
After a fairly underwhelming first season, many were still patient and understood he was still very young, but the general consensus was that people needed to see more.
The shortened 2020 campaign had many expectations for Guerrero, and people were ready to watch him blossom.
But as the season commenced and progressed, it didn’t look like much had changed at all.
The same issues were present, and fans remained disappointed.
By the end of the 2020 season, Guerrero had two partial seasons under his belt, but he didn’t quite meet the expectations fans once had.
People saw his minor league numbers and saw a kid under 20 who had the capability of being better than his hall-of-fame father, Vladimir Guerrero Sr.
He was just a kid shredding pitchers apart and sending them home to sleep with the most vicious nightmares. It was only a matter of time before he was doing this to major league elites.
While guys like Tatis, Juan Soto, and Ronald Acuna Jr were hammering baseballs left and right, Guerrero was chugging along trying to even get the balls in the air.
The exit velocities didn’t change much, as he could still hit the ball at lightning speeds. But instead of sailing over the wall as they did in AAA, they would routinely roll into an infielder’s glove.
Despite the raw tools still being displayed, his legitimacy was questioned severely after the 2020 season, even if he wasn’t actually a bad player.
People were quick to label him a bust, saying he will never be like his father, that the projections were all nonsense. Some people even suggested the Blue Jays should look into trading him.
Then, everything was about to change.
The Winter of Vlad
Some months after the Blue Jays were bounced in the Wild Card round by the Tampa Bay Rays, it was reported that Guerrero lost 42 pounds since the end of the 2020 season. The hustle seemed to be genuine, as videos of him in the gym would rapidly surface across social media, with him looking leaner and leaner as each clip came out.
Guerrero would post the ultimate tease on his Instagram story; videos of him taking batting practice back home in the Dominican Republic, and his swing looked nasty.
It was clear his swing looked better in every aspect, and he was crushing baseballs over and over again like it was nothing.
The leaner he got, the meaner he got, and it left fans with plenty of newfound anticipation.
Guerrero looked determined to conquer the world. He looked ready to shut the doubters up and prove he’s everything people initially hoped for.
It was time for the real test; the 2021 regular season.
Hot Vlad Summer
Fast forward to July 2021, and Guerrero hasn’t been passing the test, but he’s been crushing it.
After the first half of the 2021 season, his numbers look like something you’d see on a video game simulation.
Guerrero is hitting .332 with 31 home runs, with an OPS of 1.107. His WRC+ sits at a staggering 194, and it looks like he’s found his home on the field at first base, where he’s played exceptional defense relative to his expectations prior to the season.
His isolated power stat is at a ridiculous .345, and his strikeout rate is nearly on par with his walk rate.
Even taking away stats, all you have to do is tune into a Blue Jays game and wait for the third hitter in the lineup to step up, you will be amazed every time.
If you’re a pitcher facing Guerrero, it’s going to be extremely hard, and he’s always eager to make you pay. So what do you do?
Want to pitch down the middle to him? Well, you can’t, unless you want your pitch to end up on the moon.
Want to throw offspeed? Well, be careful, as the simplest mistake can leave you slamming your glove into the dugout bench.
Want to avoid him altogether? Well, you can just pitch out to him, but be mindful that he won’t swing. So enjoy watching him jog to first base because it’s better than watching him jog around the bases, right?
If you managed to get him out, chances are you either watched him almost kill your shortstop with a scorching line drive, you watched the ball land just at the warning track, or you got him to swing and miss with a nasty pitch. And if that last one is the case, then kudos to you, but it probably won’t happen again.
There just isn’t much you can do if you’re on the mound.
And defensively, he’s not the error machine people thought he would be. Guerrero appears exceptionally comfortable playing first, and his long stretches and stellar picks show he’s got what it takes to be a long-term first base option.
He’s essentially become a top ten player overnight and based on what we’ve seen, that might even be lowballing him.
If this is what’s coming out of someone who is only 22, the impending damage he’s about to cause going forward couldn’t be anything short of mesmerizing.
The story of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should be a lesson to many baseball fans out there, and that is patience.
If your favorite prospect isn’t Mike Trout by the time he’s 19, that’s okay. You never know, he might become an MVP and take the all-star game by storm a few years later.