Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is among the top rookies of this MLB season. Playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, he has had many ups and downs, from breaking the Home Run Derby record to a disappointing end of season slump. But on the whole, he been a major help to the Blue Jays with their team rebuild, giving new hope to the team’s fans after a difficult few seasons. Although the 20 year old has been plagued by concerns over his conditioning, and was carefully managed by the team to avoid injury, he is expected to return in better shape next season.
Since he was a kid, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. spent a lot of time in big league clubhouses watching his father, who was one of the best hitters for his time. When his father’s career ended, he was a nine-time All-Star, 2004 American League Most Valuable Player, and considered one of the greatest hitters to come from the Dominican Republic. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
At the age of just 16, Guerrero Jr. was ranked by Baseball America as the top international free agent. The Toronto Blue Jays signed Guerrero for $3.9 million dollars. He was assigned to extended spring training camp to open the minor league season. Playing with the Rookie Advanced Bluefield Blue Jays, he made his minor league debut in June of 2016. His first minor league home run would come the next day netting the only two runs scored by his team that day against the Bristol Pirates. In total, throughout his minor league career, he ended up with 44 home runs, scored 209 RBIs and a minor career batting average of .331.
At the start of his 2019 minor league season, and only eight games in, he already had an average of .367, 3 home runs and 8 RBIs. Recognizing his talent, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they would be calling Guerrero Jr up for his MLB debut. When the day of his debut came, it may have been one of the most exciting moments in Rogers Centre. Fans were so excited to see the new rookie out on the Major League field for the first time in his career, from his first play made at third base to his first major league hit in the bottom of the ninth.
And so the season kicked off swiftly for Guerrero Jr. Just a few weeks later in Oracle Park, he became the youngest Blue Jay to hit a home run, beating Danny Ainge by 18 days. Throughout the season he showed off his great ability to play the game of baseball with .251 batting average, 8 home runs and 23 runs batted in just before the all-star break. Then the sensational rookie slugger was invited to the MLB Home Run Derby.
On the night of the Derby, the rookie did not disappoint. He put on one of the best performances in the event’s history, breaking the record for most home run hits in a single round (29) and most home runs overall in the derby with 91. In the first round, Guerrero defeated Matt Chapman, with 29 home runs, Chapman hitting just 13. The next round for Guerrero was by far the most exciting in the entire derby, facing off against Joc Pederson. Guerrero and Pederson tied with 29 home runs sending them to a tie breaker. An extra one-minute rounds resulted in another tied. Finally, it came down to a sudden death swing off. Guerrero finally won with 40 home runs to Pederson’s 39.
Unfortunately for Guerrero, he would go on to lose to Pete Alonso in the final round. He ended the night with a total of 91 home runs, breaking the previous record of 61 set by Giancarlo Stanton in 2016.
Guerrero continued to play strong through most of the rest of his rookie season but as the season came to a close, he started to look tired. Guerrero closed out his season having 464 at bats with 126 hits, 15 home runs, and a season batting average of .272 and 69 RBIs.
The Blue Jays have a bright future ahead of them with the rising rookies on their roster, and they are especially excited to perform better after getting locked out of the postseason. Despite concerns over his level of conditioning, and a disappointing last few games, Guerrero set out a solid debut season that fans and spectators can be proud of. Now Blue Jays fans are excited to see improvement in his game in the next few years. Even when Guerrero got tired at the season, he still kept his spirits up. As said by his teammate, Cavan Biggio “He keeps things very simple, he’s already been very hyped up with all the media before this year, and he went out there and performed better than previous years, I don’t think it’s ever going to get to him.”
Image Credit: Flickr/Tricia Hills