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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Making Strides Defensively At Third Base

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Discussions about Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s defense tend to center around whether it even matters.

The reigning Minor League Player of the Year and No. 1 prospect in baseball has the bat to be in the majors on Opening Day, but the Blue Jays have consistently cited his defense at third base as not being ready—an assessment scouts overwhelmingly agree with. While service-time considerations are the unspoken driver of Toronto’s decision to keep Guerrero in the minors to start the year, the need for him to improve his defense is genuine—something that was not true of Kris Bryant, Ronald Acuna and other textbook cases of service time manipulation.

In that regard, Guerrero flashed the strides he’s made defensively this spring in the Blue Jays’ 4-3 loss to the Braves on Friday afternoon.

Guerrero made a nifty backhand play to snag a hard Johan Camargo grounder and start a 5-4-3 double play with a pinpoint throw to the second base bag. He converted his other chance seamlessly on a Luis Marte chopper, making the play moving in and delivering an accurate throw to first.

"He looks pretty good to me,” Blue Jays' first-year manager Charlie Montoyo said. "I haven’t really seen him as much like everybody else, but from what I’ve seen so far he’s played well defensively. Even when we shift he’s at short, and he’s made the plays there.”

Guerrero, 19 has generally been regarded by evaluators as a future below-average defender at third base, but that doesn’t mean he lacks tools. His hands, arm strength and throwing accuracy all draw strong reviews, and his lateral quickness is better than it’s often given credit for, both in the eyes of scouts and general observers.

Guerrero’s range and ability to make plays on the move are limited because of his hefty frame, but he’s not immobile. After countless hours of extra infield work with Blue Jays minor league coaches and instructors, Guerrero has delivered serviceable defense at third base in the eyes of whom it affects most—his pitchers.

"The last year or so he’s been nothing but great,” said Sean Reid-Foley, Toronto’s starter Friday and a teammate of Guerrero’s at Double-A and Triple-A last year.

"He’s always been good for me.”

Guerrero’s bat is still getting going. He struck out twice—swinging through elevated mid-90s fastballs for strike three both times—and popped out to shallow left, putting him at 2-for-9 through three spring training games.

But there isn’t a doubt that Guerrero’s bat will be ready for the majors when the time comes. The only question is whether his defense will be.

So far, he’s on the right track to answering that question in the affirmative.

When asked if Guerrero’s defense at third base was better than he had been led to believe, Montoyo didn’t hesitate.

"Yes,” the Blue Jays manager said. "For a big man like that, he’s pretty impressive.”

NEWS AND NOTES

— Reid-Foley, the Blue Jays' No. 8 prospect, pitched three innings with two hits and two runs allowed, two walks and no strikeouts. He sailed through the first two innings, inducing five ground balls in six batters, but lost velocity and control in the third, allowing two walks and a two-run double. He battled out of the inning by staying away from his 90-94 mph fastball and relying on his mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball.

"It was good, good, good and then third inning I kind of just lost a little bit of my legs and starting throwing straight arm,” he said. "(Catcher) Reese McGuire was smart enough to go to some offspeed stuff to keep me on line to really get down the mound. That’s what we did to kind of help myself get out of that third inning. Other than that, just hitting that wall with my legs, everything felt good.”

Bryse Wilson, the Braves' No. 6 prospect and No. 80 on the Top 100, gave up back-to-back home runs to lead off the game and didn’t make it out of the first inning. The righthander sat 92-93 mph with his fastball, 78-80 mph on his breaking ball and 83-84 mph on his changeup. Only his changeup was an effective pitch, with both his fastball and breaking ball getting hit hard.

— Blue Jays shortstop Lourdes Gurriel Jr. left the game after being hit by a pitch on his left wrist in the fifth inning. A Blue Jays spokesman said tests for a fracture were negative and that Gurriel has been diagnosed with a left forearm contusion.

— Braves reliever A.J. Minter walked off with a trainer after facing one batter in the third inning. The Braves announced he was pulled with left shoulder tightness. Minter’s exit capped a rough week for the health of Braves pitchers. Kevin Gausman (shoulder), Mike Foltynewicz (elbow), Mike Soroka (shoulder) and Luiz Gohara (shoulder) all were announced with injuries this week.

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Pete Alonso Beats Vladimir Guerrero Jr. To Win Home Run Derby

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