Vlad Jr., who is the son of MLB Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, is the most-hyped prospect to come to the bigs since the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg made their respective debuts with the Washington Nationals. And given that he will debut in Canada a little more than 22 years after his father first broke into the bigs with the Montreal Expos, the storyline seems all too perfect.
Realistically, this is a debut that could have happened last fall, if not sooner. Guerrero has already established himself as one of the most accomplished hitters in the minor leagues, hitting .331 with a .945 OPS in 288 games in the minors.
Guerrero struggled to make a drastic impact in Spring Training, but he also suffered a strained oblique muscle that gave the Blue Jays the perfect excuse to send him back down to the minors to heal, while conveniently accruing more service time on their star prospect.
But now, the future is here. The Blue Jays have not had a true star they drafted and then developed into stardom since the late, great Roy Halladay. So, all eyes will be on Guerrero when he strides to the plate for his first at-bat in the bigs.
And yet aside from all of his successes, there are other considerations to be made when placing certain expectations on Vlad Jr.
The oblique injury
Unfortunately, the oblique injury Guerrero sustained should mitigate some of the expectations around his rising star. Blue Jays fans need not look much further than the New York Yankees for evidence.
Most recently, Yankees superstar Aaron Judge went on the Injured List with a fairly significant oblique injury, and is out indefinitely. Though Yankees fans may not remember, Judge was shut down for an oblique injury after appearing in 27 games during the 2016 season, before bursting through the wall to win the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2017.
Here’s the thing, though: Judge and fellow Yankee sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez have a history of muscle-related injuries. This is especially true for Judge and Sanchez, which is somewhat concerning given they have each only played two full seasons in the big leagues.
But why does this apply to Vlad Jr.? Well, Guerrero is — simply put — a big boy. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, his stocky frame and immense strength help him generate an absurd amount of leverage and bat head speed. While this is certainly a good quality that should help his power translate to the majors, there is also the question of how much stress he may be putting on his body.
Judge and Stanton are built like trucks, and yet they have dealt with these aforementioned injuries in nearly every season of their careers. And while that does not mean they cannot be effective, it does create more frustration while enhancing the risks of re-injury.
In his defense, Vlad Jr. has continued to mash opponents in his return from injury, hitting .367 with three homers in eight games in Triple-A this season. Still, his health should be something to watch as his big-league journey begins.
Perhaps one of the most neglected characteristics of Vlad Jr.’s makeup is his sheer joy in playing the game. For someone as strong and imposing as he is, Guerrero has a rather jovial nature about him. Just take a look at his personal Instagram page.
From congratulating fellow rookie sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. on his first homer to bear-hugging teammates, Guerrero seems to enjoy every moment of being a ball player.
But do not let this be a distraction from the fact that he can also turn a session off a hitting tee into must-see TV. Or clobber a massive walk-off homer in Olympic Stadium in Montreal, admiring his handiwork as he saunters down the first base line as he did last March.
Much like young stars such as Harper, Javier Baez and Ronald Acuna, Guerrero’s combination of joy and flair could make him one of the more marketable players in baseball, as if his hitting prowess did not speak for itself already.
Better than Dad?
There have been plenty of comparisons between father and son in the buildup to Vlad Jr.’s debut. For starters, their minor league stat lines are nearly identical:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. now has exactly the same number of at-bats his dad had before his MLB debut. Through 1,055 AB's,
Vlad Sr: .343 AVG, 45 HR, 184 RBI, 95 BB, 115 K in 285 G
Vlad Jr: .332 AVG, 42 HR, 206 RBI, 149 BB, 137 K in 283 G
— Kelsie Heneghan (@Kelsie_Heneghan) April 15, 2019
Then there are the swing paths, which also share similarities:
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 25, 2019
The most notable characteristic is the hand position and the slightly cocked angle of the bat during the loading position.
In fact, the similarities get even more eerie. Vlad Sr. only struck out at around a 10 percent rate, and he also walked just 8 percent of the time. Vlad Sr.’s career swing rate was an absurd 58.3 percent, easily defining himself as one of the most successful free-swingers the game has ever seen.
By comparison, Vlad Jr. has an 8.6 walk rate and 13 percent strikeout rate in the minors, although he had a higher number of both free passes and whiffs than his father through the same number of at-bats. Can he sustain the same level of success that his dad experienced in the majors?
Even though it does not seem fair to stack Vlad Jr. against his father, there is no question that Blue Jays fans have Hall of Fame hopes for their young superstar.
Toronto fans have coveted this day since they signed Guerrero as a 16-year-old in the summer of 2015. Will Vlad Jr. live up to the hype and help galvanize a Blue Jays franchise in desperate need of star power?
Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: Friday night will be a lot of fun.