On Thursday night the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals opened their four-game weekend series at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals jumped all over Blue Jays starter Anthony Kay (and long reliever Tanner Roark) in the early innings, and the bullpen held on for a 7-5 win (box score). Kansas City has won three straight games and four of their past five.
For the Blue Jays, the star of Thursday's game was the recently turned 22-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero, who fell a triple short of the cycle to continue his molten hot start to the season. The home run, a 456-footer off Kyle Zimmer in the seventh inning, was the longest home run of his big league career. Check it out:
Goodness. And to think, that wasn't even Guerrero's hardest hit ball of the night. His fourth inning double left his bat at 113.9 mph. The home run had an 112.8 mph exit velocity. Here are the five longest home runs of Vlad Jr.'s young career:
- April 15, 2021: 456 feet vs. Royals (Kyle Zimmer)
- May 14th, 2019: 451 feet vs. Giants (Reyes Moronta)
- August 1st, 2019: 450 feet vs. Orioles (Dillon Tate)
- July 20th, 2019: 441 feet vs. Tigers (Gregory Soto)
- May 14th, 2019: 438 feet vs. Giants (Nick Vincent)
The home runs on May 14, 2019 were the first two home runs of Guerrero's career, so prior to Thursday, his second career home run was the longest of his career. That is no longer the case.
The 3 for 5 with a double and a homer game Thursday raised Vlad Jr.'s season batting line to .413/.526/.674 through 13 games. That's a cool 1.200 OPS on the nose. He is 15 for 31 (.484) in his past eight games and has nearly as many walks (nine) as strikeouts (10) on the year. This hasn't come out of nowhere either -- Guerrero hit .286/.351/.507 in his final 39 games last season.
Vlad Jr. has consistently ranked among the league's exit velocity leaders since his MLB debut two years ago. His 90.6 mph career average exit velocity is a top 30 mark in baseball since his arrival, and Guerrero is one of only three players with multiple batted balls over 118 mph since 2019, joining Giancarlo Stanton and Pete Alonso.
Hitting the ball hard has never been an issue with Guerrero. He's been held back by his tendency to hit the ball on the ground more than anything. Guerrero posted a 51.3 percent ground ball rate from 2019-20, well above the 43.0 league average. No matter how hard you hit the ball, your power output is going to be limited when you put it on the ground that often.
Including Thursday night, Guerrero now owns a 41.7 percent ground ball rate in the early going this season. That's more in line with the game's best power hitters. That ground ball rate combined with Vlad Jr.'s natural ability to hit the ball hard (and also his strike zone knowledge and under-appreciated contact skills) are a recipe for 30 homers, easy.
Development is not linear and the fact Guerrero was considered a bit of a disappointment while hitting .269/.336/.442 (109 OPS+) during his age 21-22 seasons is a testament to how highly regarded he was as a prospect. There's always been a monster lurking beneath the surface though. Two weeks in the 2021 season, it looks like the long-awaited Vlad Jr. breakout is here.