Scouting Vladimir Guerrero Jr., One Of The Best Teenage Hitters Ever
MANCHESTER, N.H.—He’s 19 years old.
That’s what I have to keep reminding myself when I watch Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He’s already a complete hitter—major league ready now with the bat—and one of the best teenage hitters ever.
Guerrero, the Blue Jays’ top prospect and the top prospect still in the minor leagues, is hitting .398/.455/.624 in 24 games with Double-A New Hampshire, with as many walks (12) as strikeouts (12) and more extra-base hits (14) than strikeouts. He has humongous raw power, but it’s his incredible bat control, uncanny plate discipline and lack of holes as a hitter that stand out even more. Guerrero’s defense still needs work, but he’s making progress there too.
“You kind of forget that he’s 19 sometimes because he’s a pro with everything he does off the field, in the weight room, getting himself ready to play, his work in the cage, his work in the infield,” New Hampshire manager John Schneider said. “He’s just a pro. It’s fun to watch him do it every day.”
Power often develops later in a hitter’s career. Guerrero’s raw power is already a 70 tool, and at 19, there’s time for it to tick up to the top of the 20-80 scale. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Guerrero combines strength and fierce bat speed, launching balls out of the entire stadium to his pull side in BP and hitting them off the hotel beyond the left-center field wall. Even as a teenager among men, Guerrero has louder thunder than anyone on his team by a wide margin. Just as impressive as the pull shots is the way Guerrero approaches BP and his ability to drive the ball to all fields, with line drives that carry all the way to the right-center field wall.
“He never gets pull happy,” Schneider said. “If you watch his BP, it’s very meticulous, starting oppo and working his way back to the middle. He just hits it where it’s pitched. He knows he can leave right field, center field, left field. So he doesn’t try to get out of his approach. He doesn’t try to change his swing to try to yank one. Not everyone has that luxury to just hit it where it’s pitched.”
Everything Guerrero does in batting practice translates into the game. He can knock the ball out to any part of the park and stays with that all-fields approach in games. Guerrero swings aggressively but the stroke itself is compact and efficient. His barrel enters the hitting zone in good position and he stays through the ball extremely well for a young hitter, which helps him drive all types of pitches throughout the strike zone to any part of the field.
Guerrero inherited his father’s hand-eye coordination, seldom missing when he swings. While people joke and marvel at his dad’s proclivity for chasing (and hitting) pitches out of the strike zone, Vladdy Jr. is a supremely disciplined hitter. The way he tracks pitches is advanced, recognizing pitches immediately out of the pitcher’s hand and routinely working himself into favorable counts by laying off borderline pitches. Between his pitch recognition, strike-zone discipline and innate feel for the barrel, Guerrero leaves pitchers with few holes to exploit, with the ability to turn around premium velocity or square up breaking balls and changeups on the sweet spot just as well.
“He has really good command of the zone,” Schneider said. “He can still throw in a Senior, one-handed, off-the-ground knock, but he has really good command of the zone, too.”
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. 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.
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Guerrero is still 19. Just as hard as that is to remember when watching him hit, it’s equally important when evaluating his glove. Guerrero signed with the Blue Jays for $3.9 million as a 16-year-old in 2015, when he was an outfielder who then moved to third base after signing. Many of his peers from that class—if they’re moving on a fast schedule—are making their full-season debuts this year in low Class A. If Guerrero were merely a good hitter instead of a great one, Guerrero would be evaluated as a 19-year-old third baseman in the low Class A Midwest League. Instead, he’s being judged as a potential major league third baseman for 2018.
His defense isn’t ready yet, but it’s moving in the right direction. He’s in a race against time pulling at him from both directions, as he needs more time to improve his hands, footwork and other technical aspects of his defense, yet due to his size, he might physically outgrow the position at some point. Guerrero is a big man, but thus far he has maintained his conditioning and worked hard at his agility.
He’s not a natural defender at third base. His first-step quickness and lateral range are below-average, but he has shown two things that work well for him at the position. One is his arm, which has improved since signing and plays better in the infield than it did from the outfield. The other is his hand-eye coordination, which is obvious at the plate but translates into the field as well. His coordination and reactions off the bat help him charging in on slow rollers and making the off-balance play.
With more improvement, Guerrero has the talent to stay at third base, at least early in his career. Wherever he plays this year—Double-A, Triple-A or Toronto—he needs to be somewhere where he can get repetitions every day at third base.
“I think he’s made great progress just in the couple of years that he’s been playing third,” Schneider said. “Obviously he has a plus arm, so I think that spot is a good spot for him at third. There are always things to work on. We’re working on angles to his glove side, we’re working on slow rollers, all these things, and he’s done an outstanding job with it, working at it every day. The thing that’s cool about him is that he comes to the field with a smile on every day, ready to work, ready to roll."