Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s ongoing breakout season resumed in the Dominican League, where the 18-year-old third baseman was suiting up for Escogido.
While on the one hand, playing winter ball allows Guerrero to live out a childhood dream, Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim said, “It’s really encouraging for us that he has specific goals that he’s working towards.”
In particular, the priorities for Guerrero are to improve his defensive footwork and range at third base, while continuing his physical development by working with one of the club’s strength and conditioning coaches a couple times a week.
Guerrero batted .323/.425/.485 in a combined 119 games at low Class A Lansing and high Class A Dunedin this season, establishing himself among a small handful of the game’s very best prospects. Helping his cause is that he walked 76 times against 62 strikeouts, demonstrating a command of the strike zone rare for any player, let alone a teenager.
With Escogido, “there will be some nights he’ll be facing a couple of big leaguers before a packed house, and then there’s other nights where there might be more A-ball type guys,” Kim said. “What you do get consistently is a pressure-filled environment and talented players. It’s a different type of environment and it really helps players improve in handling pressure situations.”
A start at Double-A New Hampshire is possible for Guerrero in 2018, but right now that’s less likely than a return to Dunedin, where he would be positioned for a quick promotion with a strong opening.
At the end of the season, general manager Ross Atkins didn’t rule out a big league debut in 2018 but cautioned against expecting one.
“I suppose there’s a chance,” Atkins said. “I just think it’s unlikely that a player moves through the system in two and a half years.
“Based on the way we’re constructed, absolutely it could happen . . . (But) for him to be the best potential offensive and defensive player, maximizing the opportunity in the minor leagues is extremely important.”
• New Hampshire manager Gary Allenson, short-season Vancouver manager Rich Miller and Lansing pitching coach Willie Collazo were all fired after the season and Kim expects no other changes to the minor league staff. “At this point, we’re comfortable with what we’re lined up for,” he said.
• Max Pentecost, a 2014 first-round pick, caught 20 games this season at Dunedin and will continue to get more innings there in the Arizona Fall League as the Blue Jays look to increase his defensive workload next year.