MLB Prospect Watch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is destroying the minors, so when will the Blue Jays call him up?
Vlad Jr. is crushing Double-A as a 19-year-old
Now that Ronald Acuna and Gleyber Torres are in the big leagues, the prospect still in the minors is Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Heck, Vlad Jr. might've been the best prospect in the minors even before Acuna and Torres were called up.
On Monday night the 19-year-old Guerrero swatted two home runs, the second of which banged off the hotel beyond the left-center field wall at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire. To the action footage:
Monday's two-homer game improved Guerrero's season batting line to .398/.453/.673 in 25 games. He's hit five homers and has as many walks (12) as strikeouts (12) despite being more than five years younger than the average Eastern League player. Elite performance against players several years his elder.
Much like his father, Vlad Jr. has an elite ability to barrel the ball from the right side of the plate and generates effortless plus raw power to all fields with his combination of bat speed, physical strength and hand-eye coordination. His plate discipline is also impressive, as he accrued more walks (76) than strikeouts (62) in 2017 to finish among the Minor League leaders in on-base percentage ... As a future plus hitter with at least 30-homer potential, Guerrero boasts the offensive profile of a perennial All-Star and possible MVP candidate in his prime.
It's unclear whether Vlad Jr. will remain at third base long-term -- there's some thought he'll outgrow the position and move to first base or even designated hitter down the line -- but ultimately it doesn't matter. He has superstar caliber offensive skill set, much like his father, a Hall of Famer.
Not surprisingly, the calls to promote Guerrero to the big leagues are growing louder among Blue Jays fans, especially with Kendrys Morales hitting a weak .152/.236/.278 from the DH spot. Josh Donaldson has been dealing with nagging injuries pretty much all year, so call Vlad Jr. up and have him split time at third base and DH with Donaldson. Sounds like a plan, right?
Promoting a 19-year-old to the big leagues straight from Double-A would be rare but not unprecedented. Mike Trout did it in 2011, though he struggled in his first taste of the show and had to go back to the minors. Jurickson Profar and Justin Upton both skipped over Triple-A entirely and made their MLB debuts as 19-year-olds. It's been done before.
At this point Guerrero's free agency has already been pushed back. The Blue Jays could call him up tomorrow and they'd have him for the remainder of the 2018 season plus six full years from 2019-24 before he qualifies for free agency. Vlad Jr. would be a Super Two, however, meaning he'd go through arbitration four times instead of three, raising his future salaries.
Service time isn't an issue, and there is precedent for promoting a 19-year-old straight from Double-A, so what's stopping the Blue Jays from calling up Vlad Jr.? There are two possible reasons:
- The Blue Jays don't think he's ready for MLB.
- The Blue Jays don't want to call him up because winning the AL East is a long shot.
Point No. 1 is very possible. As good as Vlad Jr. is, going from Double-A to MLB is tough, and I will always defer to the team when it comes to determining a prospect's MLB readiness. Like I said, Trout jumped from Double-A to MLB as a 19-year-old and struggled. The Blue Jays may want Guerrero to reach some development goals before considering a promotion.
Point No. 2 is possible but kinda silly. ZiPS projects Vlad Jr. as a true talent .247/.320/.400 (93 OPS+) hitter at the MLB level in 2018, which is a) incredible for a 19-year-old, and b) not very good overall. Better than Morales at this point? Yeah, probably, and there are two wild-card spots now. Vlad Jr. might not help the Blue Jays win the division this year because the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are so good, but he could help them sneak into the postseason as the second wild-card team.
Ultimately, expecting a 19-year-old kid to jump from Double-A to the big leagues and contribute right away is a lot to ask, even when he's as talented as Guerrero. The Blue Jays know Vlad Jr. better than anyone, and if they feel he needs more time in the minors, they're going to give him more time in the minors. The last thing they want to do is stunt his development by rushing him up and putting him in a situation he's not yet ready to handle.
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