Bo Bichette’s batting eye remains as laser-sharp as his line drives. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continues to crunch the ball with a crack that audibly defines potential hitting stars.
Prodigious progenies who, upon initial inspection, could surpass their parents’ talents. Premium prospects the Blue Jays hope eventually can equal the long, storied major league careers of their fathers, Dante Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero.
“The ultimate ceiling? God prevail, they’ll both be big leaguers. I mean, they have all the ingredients to be that type of player,” said Blue Jays special assistant Sandy Alomar Sr., who knows about having sons follow in his baseball footprint. “They’re very smart. They seem to be very patient. And as young kids, when you have that knowledge and you have those type of tools, I don’t think they would have any type of problem, provided they stay healthy.”
And patience, more than pedigree, is what both need to display more than anything. Both at the plate and with their careers.
There’s no question the two low Class A Lansing Lugnuts—Bichette at shortstop and Guerrero at third base—proved their abilities in the Midwest League and physically were ready for a promotion. The two Midwest League all-stars also were part of the Futures Game in Miami.
And they didn’t leave Florida after the event. The Blue Jays rewarded their young, burgeoning stars with a promotion to high Class A Dunedin after their all-star weekend showcase.
The 19-year-old Bichette finished his time in the MWL with a circuit-leading .384 average and was named MWL player of the month for June. That went with 10 home runs, 32 doubles and 12 stolen bases. There’s not much more to prove at the plate for Bichette, but the 2016 second-round pick from high school in St. Petersburg, Fla., had been road-blocked from moving up to the Florida State League by Cuban signee Lourdes Gurriel at shortstop and Cavan Biggio, son of Craig, at second base.
Bichette said he realizes promotions in the minors are out of his control and that all he can do is “keep on showing the organization that I’m maturing as a player, maturing in my routines” in Lansing.
“It’s being the same every day, bringing the same approach every single day,” Bichette said. “I continue to be consistent with my pregame work and things like that, and I think that’s very important. Every once in a while, I’ll have an 0-for-8 stretch or an 0-for-14 stretch, and you gotta handle it. You realize maybe you were doing things right and you just didn’t have the luck you had then.”
Guerrero, whom Toronto signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 for $3.9 million, was not far behind Bichette in most hitting categories. The 18-year-old ranked sixth in the MWL batting race when promoted at .316, adding seven homers, six steals and 45 RBIs. The 18-year-old also is displaying patience unlike his famously free-swinging father, walking 40 times against just 34 strikeouts in 318 plate appearances.
But as they were linked in Lansing, Bichette and Guerrero took their next steps in the organization together. Guerrero bid his farewell to Lansing with home runs—his sixth and seventh of the season—in his final two games in Lansing on July 6, including an impressive blast to center field hours before leaving for the Futures Game.
“God controls my life, and he has the control of everything,” Guerrero said through a translator, “and the same with the organization. They know when it’s a good moment to move up, so I’m not trying to rush anything, because they’ve got the control. I just keep going, and I try to get better every day, give 100 percent and don’t think about it because they have the control of that.”
Bichette and Guerrero both know their professional futures may not be tied to their current positions. The Lugnuts already have been giving Bichette some time at second base, while Guerrero knows his ultimate pro path might be as a corner outfielder—he played left field before signing with Toronto.
A tennis player growing up before shifting his focus to baseball, Bichette believes the footwork and focus he needed for his tennis stroke has prepared him to surround ground balls at either middle-infield position. It also, he believes, has helped his batting eye.
“The footwork you have to have in tennis is pretty much the same thing as a shortstop. My dad used to tell me that reading the hops in tennis helped defensively,” Bichette said. “I think playing multiple sports is good. Swinging a bat is an athletic movement, and if you do what you naturally do, it’ll be a good swing. That’s the same thing with tennis. As long as you’re being athletic and trying to hit it as hard as you can, everything kind of correlates.”
Like his father, Guerrero has an electric arm, but he laughs when teammate Yeltsin Gudino translates a question asking who has the better arm in the family. Vladimir Sr. recently threw out the first pitch before Lansing’s game on Father’s Day against West Michigan, caught by his son.
“Well, right now, I think I have the better arm. But when he was playing, he had a pretty good one,” Junior said with a grin. “We’re working in the offseason—I’ve been doing the same exercises he did during his career. If anything, I can play out there and move to the outfield and hope to have the same arm as my dad.”
Family ties in baseball are funny. Bloodlines are not a guarantee for success. See Pete Rose Jr. or Dale Berra. Yet, sometimes, they are a sign of greater things to come. See Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr.
Or Alomar’s kids, Sandy Jr. and Roberto.
Dante Bichette played with five teams from 1988-2001, most notably a seven-year, 201-homer run with the Rockies, with whom he also served as hitting coach in 2013. His son Dante Jr., a third baseman, plays at Double-A in the Yankees system.
Guerrero Sr. spent time with four teams from 1996-2011, including eight seasons in Montreal, where his son was born. He fell just 15 votes shy of election to the Hall of Fame in this year’s class, following his first appearance on the ballot, and is a strong candidate to be enshrined in 2018.
In the younger Bichette and Guerrero, Alomar Sr.—himself a 15-year major league veteran—sees many of the traits that made their fathers stars.
“The great part for both of them is that they grew up in baseball. And when you grow up in baseball, then you know the environment and it just becomes easier for you. You know exactly where you should be at. And I think they both have that. I think they’re going to be great players,” said Alomar Sr., who has been in pro baseball for more than 50 years. “In my case, what I did with our sons, is that we tried to prepare them mentally, since they were young for things they could be facing if they ever played the game. (We taught them) how they should respect the game, how they should have discipline and the environment they could be in. So they were mentally prepared.
“And I think that these two guys are just mentally prepared. Their fathers were in it, so I don’t think they’ll have any type of problems. They do pay attention because they understand that’s the only way they can become better.”
The first memories from a pro clubhouse Guerrero has are fairly recent, from his father’s 2010 stint with the Rangers. Bichette, who said his father had seen him play in about a half-dozen series this season, recalled his dad’s time as the Rockies’ hitting instructor and the lessons he picked up from watching guys like Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Seeing their day-to-day approach and professionalism sticks with him today.
“He tries not to say too much since I’m doing pretty well,” Bo said. “It’s basically just, ‘Hey, keep on grinding. When you get numbers on a day—a double or a run scored or an RBI—those numbers don’t go away. So keep on racking those numbers up.’ ”
Lansing manager Cesar Martin has seen that production from his three-hole hitter Bichette and cleanup batter Guerrero almost day in and day out the past few months. Martin sees the tools of major leaguers and believes their performance so far is indicative of their potential.
“That’s the good thing about them. The tools that they have, and the work they put in every day, day in and day out, is what’s making them even better,” he said.”We talked with them about just controlling what they can control. Don’t worry about (roster) moves or all that kind of stuff. Because, you know what? That’s gonna happen at the right time. They don’t need to worry. Just keep working hard and getting better, like they are right now.”
— Chris Solari is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press