Image credit: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Photo by Tom DiPace)
At long last, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will make his big league debut, as the Blue Jays announced Wednesday one of baseball’s most celebrated prospects in recent memory will join their MLB roster Friday.
To mark the occasion, we took a look back at various scouting reports, stories, videos and rankings featuring Guerrero Jr. over the last half of the decade.
Here are some quick facts showing where Guerrero Jr. topped out in our rankings:
- No. 1 in Top 100 after 2018
- No. 3 in Top 100 after 2017
- No. 20 in Top 100 after 2016
- Blue Jays No. 1 prospect after 2016, 2017, 2018
- No. 1 Prospect in Eastern League (2018), Arizona Fall League (2018), Florida State League (2017), Midwest League (2017), Appalachian League (2016)
By now, even the casual baseball fans were at least aware of Vlad Jr.’s prowess and propensity to mash highlight-reel taters.
He was Voted No. 1 in both power and hitting across all Minor League players in our annual “Best Tools” list. In his preseason scouting report, we wrote: He is a potential superstar in the mold of Manny Ramirez, and it’s not out of the question that Guerrero could develop into an 80 hitter with 80 power.
Amazingly, Vlad Jr. became the first Dominican player to ever rank No. 1 in our Top 100. He was also our first consensus No. 1 overall prospect since Kris Bryant in 2015.
An oblique injury dashed any hopes of Vlad Jr. beginning the year in Toronto, although it was never likely, as Toronto was expected to manipulate his service time anyways.
Still, through his first 12 minor league games, he amassed very Vladimir Guerrero Jr.-like numbers, posting a .333/.400/.578 line with three homers, including his latest tape-measure shot that went viral.
Naturally, baseball fans everywhere clamored for Guerrero Jr.’s promotion to Toronto, something we even heard back in…
Where there wasn’t much debate by year end at Baseball America who the best prospect in baseball was.
We named Guerrero Jr. our 2018 Minor League Player of the Year. In a fitting year-end retrospective, Ben Badler examined Guerrero’s path to prospect prominence, beginning as a youngster who would follow his father around MLB clubhouses.
Vladimir Sr.’s brother, ex-big leaguer Wilton Guerrero, primarily trained Vlad Jr.
“I saw his swing,” Wilton said, “and I said, ‘He’s going to be like his father.’ He swings hard all the time. Every pitch. No matter what you throw, he swings hard. You can throw everything. You might get him out one time, but you’re not going to get him out with the same pitch twice. He has the ability to hit the ball hard all the time. He has the power and he has the eye. His dad was the same way—no matter what you throw, he can hit every pitch. The only thing is, Junior is a little bit more selective at the plate.”
And it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise Vlad Jr. dominated at every MiLB level. He has long showed a selective approach at the plate — one of his calling cards — and regularly competed against kids (and even adults) much older than him.
Yet even we still had to remind ourselves Vlad Jr. was just a teenager.
“Guerrero is the best teenage hitter to come along since Bryce Harper batted .270/.340/.477 in 139 games as a 19-year-old rookie in 2012 with 5.2 WAR, per Baseball-Reference.com,” Badler wrote in May of 2018.
“Vladdy Jr. has his dad’s hitting mannerisms, with an offensive profile in the mold of superstars like Manny Ramirez and Frank Thomas. He is already a player with the upside to win a batting title or to lead the league in OBP or slugging in some years.”
While body concerns were still prevalent, we were even beginning to allow ourselves to dream about a rapid rise to the majors for Vlad Jr. Here’s how we ended his first report of 2017:
“He figures to reach low Class A Lansing in 2017, and he could make it hard for the Jays to keep him from getting to the big leagues by the time he’s 20.”
In a video, Ben Badler broke down what he saw from Guerrero that year, which was in line with what he first began seeing as a 14 and 15-year-old amateur.
“I’ve been watching Vladdy Jr. play since he was 15 years old … He has ferocious bat speed and incredible hand-eye coordination. It’s consistent, quality contact. High-impact, high exit velocity without much swing and miss.”
“I think his offensive upside is so high, he can be a star and play any position on the field,” Badler also said.
Vlad sat down and joined Ben Badler at the Futures Game that year, too.
Already earning top prospect honors within the Blue Jays organization, we wrote this in his year-end scouting report:
“He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills, to the point he seems to have been born to hit. His special hands allow him to manipulate the barrel and square up pitches of all types. He has excellent strike-zone judgment for a 17-year-old, walking nearly as often as he struck out and showing an ability to lay off breaking balls that will be further tested at higher levels. He has tremendous raw power and showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields at an advanced rate for his age. Guerrero covers the plate well and should be an above-average hitter with 30-plus homer potential down the line. Some club officials have compared his overall offensive profile to that of Edwin Encarnacion, though with more speed, as he’s actually an average runner.”
Few questioned his hitting ability. Fielding was a different matter. The lingering fear, if you can call it that, among scouts was that an eventual move to 1B/DH was in play for Guerrero Jr — something that’s still possible even today.
After initially trying left field, Toronto moved Vlad Jr. to third base. Here’s what Ben Badler wrote in his 2016 international review.
“Guerrero signed as an outfielder, so when the Blue Jays decided to experiment moving Guerrero to third base during U.S. instructional league last fall, the reaction from other organizations was . . . really!? Guerrero already has a thick, heavy body type with limited speed and 40-45 arm, so he figured to be limited to left field at best. But despite mostly showcasing as an outfielder (he did spend some time in the infield before signing as well), Guerrero told the Blue Jays he prefers to play third base, and they saw enough from him there to keep him there for now. His footwork isn’t bad for someone his size and Blue Jays coaches were impressed that his arm played better in the infield than it did in the outfield. The Blue Jays didn’t tinker with his throwing motion, but he naturally threw with a shorter stroke from a different arm angle when he got to the infield and started to show average arm strength from third base. Guerrero might still end up back in left field or at first base, but that’s fine if he turns into the offensive force that the Blue Jays and several scouts from other organizations predict he can become.
Ranked as Ben Badler’s No. 1 international prospect and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for $3.9 million. Toronto actually traded a pair of prospects — Chase DeJong and Tim Locastro — to the Dodgers to acquire additional space to sign Guerrero initially. Guerrero Jr. was the only player Toronto signed to a bonus over $10,000.
Here’s Badler’s scouting report on Guerrero as an amateur.
Vladdy Jr. doesn’t have his father’s all-around tools, but few players in baseball history did. Guerrero is an offensive-oriented prospect who several scouts said has the top combination of hitting ability and power in this year’s class. Guerrero has terrific bat speed, unleashing a quick, compact swing with hitting mannerisms reminiscent of his father. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat control, which allows him to make frequent contact. Guerrero has good plate coverage, with the ability to square up premium velocity and breaking balls. Some scouts thought Guerrero could get out of control at times, but most thought his hitting approach was advanced for a 16-year-old. Guerrero’s strength, bat speed and weight transfer produce flashes of plus raw power, striking the ball with as much consistent hard contact as any player in the class.
The drawback with Guerrero is that he doesn’t bring much else to the table beyond what he does in the batter’s box. He’s a below-average runner at best with the thick, heavy body type that suggests he’s going to slow down further. He has a 40-45 arm, so unless that improves for him to play right field, his best-case scenario defensively is to play left field. Guerrero has grown an inch in the past year and has worked hard to drop some weight, but keeping his conditioning in check will always have to be a focal point for him, since some scouts worry he might be a future first baseman or DH. Most of his focus to this point has been on his offense, so he needs to devote more time to his fielding, but that’s the case with many young Dominican outfielders.
Scouts are divided on whether they would put Guerrero over Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers when they were at the same stage, with Devers generally getting the edge for his pure hitting ability and Guerrero grading out higher for his power. Like Devers, there is concern about Guerrero’s defensive value, but if he turns into a plus hitter with plus or better power and hits in the middle of a lineup, it won’t matter where he plays. Guerrero has played in both the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League, though he spends most of his time training with his uncle Wilton Guerrero, a former big leaguer. Guerrero’s bonus should rank among the top in the class, though it might not be the highest. The Blue Jays are enamored with Guerrero and are expected to land him.
Toronto did extensive research on Vlad Jr. before pledging its entire international bonus space to one player, but was also plenty familiar with him.
“They have a house, like a four-story house behind left field,” said Ismael Cruz, who led Toronto’s international scouting at the time.
“The field is like 300 feet to left field, but this is a 14,15-year-old kid hitting the fourth floor of that house. He was really enjoying it, too. Everyone would stop to see him hit.”
Some things haven’t changed.