MLB Prospect Watch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is back in action and should soon be debuting in the majors

It was only a matter of time before we spotlighted Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 20-year-old Toronto Blue Jays minor-league third baseman who is almost universally held as the game's best prospect. So, why not today? Why not now? The timing works well: Guerrero is once more hearty and hale following a late-spring oblique injury that sabotaged his (limited) hopes of making the Opening Day roster. Since returning, he's appeared in seven games between the High- and Triple-A levels, hitting .360/.448/.560 -- good for a 1.008 OPS that is, um, 65 points worse than his full-season mark last year. Lordy.

There's not much fresh acreage to survey when it comes to Guerrero. The kid can hit, and will graduate from the minors' top bat to one of the majors' best as soon as he receives the opportunity. The public scouting reports that grade Guerrero's hit and power tools as 7s and/or 8s are right on, per those in the industry. He is, by all accounts, a special talent. How special? A talent evaluator for a rival team remarked to CBS Sports that "you'd be surprised by the number of people who think [Vlad Jr.] will be an even better hitter than his father." The reason being Vlad Jr. already possesses better plate discipline than his pops had. Check out the home run he hit on Wednesday that left the Pawtucket ballpark:

Remember: Vladimir Guerrero Sr. is a Hall of Famer whose swing-happy ways didn't prevent him from hitting .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs over a 16-year big-league career.

Guerrero's defense isn't as remarkable as his offense. He's believed to be a tolerable third baseman for the time being, and down the road it's likely he'll shift to first base or DH. Provided he hits like he's expected to, it won't matter what position he plays -- he'll still be a valued contributor, likely in the Miguel Cabrera mold. Guerrero's lacking glove does serve as a nifty shield for the Blue Jays to wield whenever they need to defend keeping him down. Don't buy in.

The main reason Guerrero isn't in the majors (and hasn't been, dating back to last season), is service-time manipulation. Toronto has already secured an extra year of control over him due to him being in the minors at this point in the season. Unless the Blue Jays go full nihilist and use his oblique injury to keep him in the minors until the Super Two window passes during the summer -- and Lord, let's hope not -- it seems that his time will come within the next month.

When the day arrives, Guerrero will face the unusual combination of sky-high combinations and a floor-level bar. Or, as the talent evaluator put it: "Brandon Drury's OPS+ is [-4] -- it is almost impossible that Guerrero, even a hypothetically-unfinished version of him that could use more Triple-A, would be worse than that."

Prospect watch

Travis Snider broke a lot of prospect-loving hearts back in the day. He's now 31 and playing for Arizona's Triple-A team, with whom he's hit .500/.605/.600 in 10 games. 

Cristian Pache isn't one for drawing walks, and that doesn't appear to be changing. In eight games in Double-A he's yet to take a base on balls. He has, nonetheless, doubled four times, tripled twice, and swiped four bases.

Grayson Rodriguez (who we covered last week), Gray Fenter, and Drew Rom have combined to strike out 48 batters in 27 ⅔ innings for the O's A-class affiliate. Rodriguez is by far the best prospect of the three, but that's impressive all the same. 

Keep the name Mike Shawaryn in mind. He'll pitch for Boston's big-league club this season, either as a starter or reliever, on the strength of a good slider and deception gifted to him by a sidearm slot. He's currently sporting a nifty seven strikeouts per walk ratio through a pair of Triple-A starts.

Dillon Maples update: he's now struck out, walked, or beaned 18 of the 21 batters he's faced. 

The White Sox gave outfielder Luis Robert $27 million in May 2017 with the hope that he'd become a star center fielder. He's been limited by health woes since, but he's off to a brilliant start this year: .475/.512/1.025 in nine games at High-A.

Did you know: Blake Trahan's surname is pronounced "TRUH-haw," per MLB's official guide? 

Last week in this space we covered Jean Carlos Mejia. This week let's focus on one of his teammates, Eli Morgan. Morgan has a very good changeup and … well, that's about it, so far as above-average offerings go. That hasn't stopped him from striking out 15 and limiting opponents to two walks and three hits over his first 11 innings this year.

Rico Garcia's second start of the season didn't go as well as the first, but we're giving him the nod here because he tends to get overlooked in a system rich with pitching. He should reach the majors this year (possibly in a relief role) behind a decent three-pitch mix.

Remember Derek Hill? The one-time first-round pick is in the process of rebounding from a horrid year in the FSL. He can still fly and he's hitting the ball harder, so don't abandon all hope just yet.

At some point the Astros are going to have to bring up Yordan Alvarez so he can leave the PCL's pitchers alone. He's up to six home runs in 10 games, with more walks than strikeouts. He's 22.

Outfielder Nick Heath doesn't hit for power and strikes out a lot, but dude can run. He swiped 39 bags in 90 games last season and already has eight (on nine tries) in 11 games this year.

The Angels acquired southpaw Patrick Sandoval as part of the Martin Maldonado trade last year. He's struck out 18 batters in nine innings at Double-A so far this season, but profiles as a back-end starter or reliever -- albeit one with a good breaking ball.

Jeren Kendall was the No. 23 pick in the draft a few years back. Unfortunately, he seems to have hit a wall in High-A dating back to last season. 

Part of the Marcell Ozuna payout, Zac Gallen has a funky delivery that includes significant crossfire action. He also has 19 strikeouts and just three baserunners allowed in his first two starts of the year. Expect him to debut sooner than later.

Joantgel Segovia offers a limited skill set that relies heavily on his bat. He's hitting the ball harder this year than in the past, so that's something.

Wilin Rosario is by no means a prospect. He is a former big-leaguer who has three home runs, zero walks, and eight strikeouts in his first eight Triple-A games. Sounds like him.

The Mets system doesn't have much going for it right now. We'll highlight Blake Tiberi, a former third-round pick who is hitting well in his return to High-A: .417/.463/.528. 

Nestor Cortes Jr. spent some time in the majors last year after being picked by the Orioles in the previous winter's Rule 5 draft. He's a soft-tossing lefty who has fanned 14 batters and permitted one run in his first two appearances this season. If he ever cracks the Yankees roster, it'll likely be in a relief role. 

In case you were wondering why the PCL is regarded as a hitter's paradise: 5-foot-8 Mark Payton, who homered six times in 62 games last season, has homered five times in his first nine games with the A's organization. 

The No. 3 pick in last June's draft, Alec Bohm is making quick work of A-ball pitchers, hitting .297/.391/.459 in 11 games. The top questions facing Bohm are how much he'll be able to tap into his raw power and if he can remain at third base.

There's seldom a such thing as a blocked prospect, but Will Craig might be one. He has Josh Bell ahead of him at first base and doesn't profile well enough at third to merit discussion there (besides, the Pirates have a better third-base prospect in Ke'Bryan Hayes). Craig is hitting .308/.438/.795 in Triple-A and has an outside chance at turning into a Steve Pearce proxy. 

All infielder Ty France has done is hit, hit, and hit some more as a professional. Minor-league performance doesn't always translate to the majors -- and there's concern about his defensive home -- but at some point he merits a shot as a reserve, be it with the Padres or another team.

Teenage outfielder Heliot Ramos appears to be working on his plate discipline: he's already drawn nine walks in 10 games after drawing 35 in 124 last year.

Ljay Newsome has fanned 30 batters over 16 2/3 innings so far in a repeat of high-A. Primarily a command-and-control right-hander in the past, he's throwing harder than in the past. Scouts remain concerned about his lack of an out pitch, however. 

The 19th pick in last June's draft, Nolan Gorman has homered 21 times in his first 73 professional games. He'll turn 20 in a couple weeks.

Vidal Brujan is one of the best second-base prospects in the game. He's already stolen eight bags on 10 tries and entered the week hitting .361/.415/.417.

Outfielder Leody Taveras and shortstop Anderson Tejeda are both off to hot starts in High-A, with each notching 15 hits in their first 38 at-bats. Both are among the top prospects in the Rangers system. 

Vlad Guerrero Jr. remains the best hitter in the minors, but it shouldn't be long until he debuts in the majors.

One relief option the Nationals won't be turning to in their search for bullpen help? Tanner Rainey, the hard-throwing return on Tanner Roark, who has walked seven in his first four innings in the organization.
CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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