Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the talk of baseball last spring.
Most analysts predicted he would be the American League Rookie of the Year. There was so much hype and anticipation about his arrival in Toronto. After a slow start, the No. 1 ranked prospect in baseball bounced back, hitting .312/.380/.514 with seven home runs and 36 RBI for the Blue Jays in July and August combined.
He finished the season with more than respectable numbers for a 20-year-old. Of course, some were still disappointed because they had unrealistic expectations, or they just forgot that the Jays third baseman was just a youngster.
This is a new season and optimism abounds once again. The focus this year is more on the team than just Guerrero. The attention and lofty expectations – and the pressure that comes with it – have been placed on the entire clubhouse, not just him. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Hyun-Jin Ryu have also helped build the level of excitement around the team.
Guerrero will breathe a little more freely this year than he did when his big-league career started on April 26 of last year. I expect he will have a breakout sophomore season. His issues last year over 123 games weren’t ability based, but rather about his inexperience and immaturity. Initially, he tried to do a bit too much, leading to him to struggle. He had never really failed in the minor leagues so it was a new learning experience for him. But he proved that he can work through a slump.
Jays hitting coach Guillermo Martinez told me that he spends a lot of his time talking to Vladdy about his preparation and process. If Junior is in the right frame of mind and has the right plan, the at-bats will take care of themselves.
Guerrero possesses the type of thinking that the great hitters have. He told me that he feels the same way about himself after a game in which he goes 0-for-4 as he does if he is 4-for-4 with two doubles and a homer. All of the great hitters trust the process and over time they put up the numbers. He did it last year and will likely do it for the next 15-to-20 years as well.
Defensively, the Jays have a plan to improve Guerrero’s play based upon positioning. Last year, he set up somewhat shallow as the pitch went to the plate. But he wasn’t getting to as many balls to his left and right as he should have, so they moved him back much deeper. However, the Jays quickly realized from that depth he was having difficulty getting to balls that were chopped slowly down the third base line. So this season, he will be splitting the difference a bit in his positioning to be able to get to as many balls as possible.