The wait is over: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is finally here. The Blue Jays' phenom will make his highly anticipated debut Friday in Toronto against the A's, with first-year manager Charlie Montoyo announcing the news after the team's loss to the Giants on Wednesday afternoon.
The arrival of one of the most hyped prospects of the last decade is a cause for celebration. But if you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so and know next to nothing about Vlad Jr., then don’t fear. Here’s an in-depth guide to all the important facts about him.
Vlad Jr. Is Vladimir Guerrero’s Son
That much is probably obvious, given the whole “Jr.” thing, but I’ll start there anyway. (Fun fact: Vlad Jr. is one of a reported eight children of Vlad Sr., and he’s also not the only son named Vladimir Guerrero; behold, 12-year-old Vladimir Miguel Guerrero [see below], already crushing Little League under his cleats.)
But you’re here for Vlad Jr., and with good reason. Born in Montreal and raised in the Dominican Republic, Guerrero grew up in MLB clubhouses; here he is as an adorable pudgy child in full Expos uniform alongside his dad. He signed with Toronto at the age of 16 in 2015 and made his professional debut a year later for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the rookie Appalachian League. That brief stay in West Virginia represents the only stretch of Vlad Jr.’s career so far in which he didn’t utterly destroy the competition, but more on that later.
As you can imagine for the son of a guy who has a career .316 batting average, 449 home runs, an AL MVP award and a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Vlad Jr. is very good at hitting. Trained by both his father and his uncle, Wilton (a veteran of eight MLB seasons), the younger Guerrero honed his skills as a child by playing against kids several years older. Unsurprisingly, he boasts a potent combo of elite genes and an advanced approach perfected through exposure to the highest levels of play. Speaking of that approach…
Vlad Jr. Isn’t Vladimir Guerrero II, Though
Vlad Sr. (and boy is it going to be weird getting used to that appellation) was best known in his MLB career for two things: hitting the ball stupidly hard, and swinging at everything thrown in his general direction. No ball in or out of the strike zone was safe from his lunging bat or lightning-fast wrists, as Guerrero smashed line drives and homers to all fields, even if he had to dig a ball out of the dirt (or off a bounce) to do it.
Despite that, though, Guerrero excelled at making contact: Not once in his 16 seasons did he crack 100 strikeouts, and he hit .300 or better every year but his rookie season and two of his final three campaigns (when he hit .295 and .290). In that respect, Vlad Jr. is a carbon copy of his father: a line-drive machine who makes loud contact without whiffs. This season in Triple A, he struck out just twice in 28 plate appearances, and last year, he walked nearly as often (37 times) as he punched out (38).
The crucial difference, though, is that Vlad Jr. has plate discipline for days. He relentlessly hunts for pitches in the strike zone, grinds out at-bats, and rarely if ever gets himself out. It’s not what you’d expect for the son of Vladimir Guerrero, but it’s a terrifying thought: a version of Vlad Sr. who doesn’t chase junk outside.
Beyond that, the two Guerreros also differ in body type. The elder Vlad was tall and lean; the younger Vlad is also tall but heavier and thicker, built more like David Ortiz. And while both father and son have cannons for arms, the latter plays third base as opposed to the outfield.
Vlad Jr. Absolutely Destroyed The Minor Leagues
The other important thing to know about Vlad Jr. is that he spent the last three-plus seasons making life a living hell for pitchers up and down the minors. I mentioned before that Guerrero’s stint in rookie ball was the first and only time he hasn’t dominated a level, and even then, he hit .271/.359/.449 at 17 years old. And that’s his worst season.
As an 18-year-old across two levels of Single A in 2017, Vlad Jr. hit .323/.425/.485. The next year, he went to Double A and hit .402/.449/.671 with 14 homers in 61 games as a 19-year-old. That’s when the first cries to call him up began, but instead, the Blue Jays sent him to Triple A midseason—again, at all of 19 freaking years old—where he proceeded to hit .336/.414/.564 with more walks than strikeouts against pitchers ten years older than him. Given a second taste of that level this spring, he’s continued to torture the poor hurlers tasked with facing him, slashing .360/.429/.640. Quite simply put, he is far too good for the minor leagues.
Vlad Jr. Should Have Been In The Majors A While Ago
So why did Vlad Jr. linger in the minors for so long? To paraphrase Bill Clinton: It’s baseball economics, stupid. Last year’s Toronto squad lost 89 games, and the 2019 edition is unlikely to do much better. Guerrero, meanwhile, will see his service time clock begin to tick the second he comes up, beginning the countdown to bigger paydays and, eventually, free agency. If, however, the Jays delayed his arrival by a certain amount of time, they could extract an extra year of team control.
If this strategy sounds like the best business practice for the Blue Jays, that’s because it is. And if it also sounds deeply unfair to Guerrero, who proved over and over again that he was ready for the majors a long time ago, that’s because it is.
What’s best for the bottom line frequently isn’t what’s right, and Toronto delaying Guerrero’s arrival falls under that category. It’s a bummer for both him and for Blue Jays fans, who had to watch sub-replacement filler like Brandon Drury instead of a generational prospect, all so the Jays and the multi-billion-dollar corporation that owns them can save money seven years down the road.
The Blue Jays will defend this stalling with talk of Guerrero needing more development—“working on his defense” was the common refrain—but at a certain point, that feels more and more like the excuse it is. The idea that Vlad Jr. wasn’t ready at the start of the season (or after he was recovered from an oblique injury suffered in spring training) but is now fit to face MLB pitchers after just seven games in Triple A doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
It looks especially silly held up against the decisions by the Padres and Mets to begin the year with their top prospects—Fernando Tatis Jr. and Pete Alonso, respectively, who also torched the minors last year—on the roster when they also could have stashed them in the minors for a month to gain that additional year. Both San Diego and New York, though, decided that it was more important to field the best team today instead of tomorrow. Both have been rewarded handsomely, as Tatis Jr. and Alonso are off to excellent starts.
Granted, the situations are different. The Padres and Mets are fringe contenders who need to squeeze out every last advantage and roster upgrade they can. The Blue Jays came into the year with no real hope of a playoff spot and a need to focus on 2020 and beyond instead of 2019. (Though that was a choice: Maybe a commitment not only to Vlad Jr. but also to spending in the offseason would have meant a stronger Blue Jays team that could compete now and in the future.) But even with that being the case, Guerrero deserved his opportunity sooner. Holding him hostage to save some money is the kind of bad faith management that’s become far too common with too many teams around the league.
Regardless, Guerrero is here now. And that’s ultimately what matters the most, because …
Vlad Jr. Absolutely Rakes
And he has the highlight reel to prove it. Here he is launching a 420-foot homer. Here he is destroying a knuckleball. Here he is hitting a hotel outside a stadium with a dinger. Here he is belting a walk-off homer for the Blue Jays in an exhibition game in Montreal, just to show he has a flair for the dramatic. Here he is taking a drool-worthy round of batting practice. Here he is hitting a home run literally out of a stadium.
The combination of raw power and hitting ability that Vlad Jr. boasts is off the charts. It’s the reason that fans have been screaming for his promotion for the last year, and why his first at-bat on Friday night is going to be a must-watch event, and why expectations for his career are so staggeringly high. Guerrero is a special, special talent, and his future is finally, thrillingly and wonderfully now.