Remember Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s Blue Jays debut? With baseball games not being played since October, this feels like a really long time ago, so it’s alright if you’ve forgotten about it. Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr was the most hyped-up prospect in the history of the game. His debut on April 26th, 2019 was watched by millions and gave hope to Blue Jays fans about the future of their team.
During his age-20 rookie season, Guerrero performed quite well. He hit .272/.339/.443 with 15 home runs over 123 games and had an OPS+ of 106. His season was somewhat underwhelming relative to the hype he received before his promotion to the Majors. People forget that he’s just a 20-year-old kid who has an unreasonable amount of pressure on him to perform. His OPS+ was better than the figures posted by Hank Aaron, Manny Machado, and Garry Sheffield in their rookie seasons. This isn’t bad by any means.
Guerrero still has plenty of room to improve. On defense, he was below average and if he doesn’t get better soon, he’ll likely end up moving over to first base. People don’t expect Vladdy to play Gold Glove-caliber defense at third, but they do expect him to be better than he currently is. In this article, I’m going to focus on his hitting, which got him all the hype and is something he is expected to be extremely gifted at.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr consistently hit the ball hard during his rookie season. That is an incredibly significant skill every hitter must-have in today’s game. He had a walk rate of nearly nine percent and had a chase rate that was league average. His contact rate was also league average, but his exit velocity was two miles per hour better than league average.
Guerrero Jr did what every hitter is supposed to do. Where he came up short and where he can improve to unlock even more of his offensive upside is his launch angle.
Guerrero Jr barreled balls as often as MLB stars Manny Machado and Justin Turner did last season. Guerrero Jr finished with 15 home runs and Machado and Turner finished with 32 home runs and 27 home runs, respectively. The difference? Guerrero Jr’s launch angle was 6.7 degrees and theirs was 13 and 17.6 degrees. That’s a substantial difference. Guerrero Jr needs to get his launch angle up. This also means that Guerrero Jr hits balls into the turf too often. He ranked 17th in baseball in groundball percentage, just ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Newman.
Guerrero Jr. has the potential to be so much than he was in his rookie season. He showed us just how good he can be during the Home Run Derby, where he hit 91 total home runs, setting a new record, and beating the previous record by 30 home runs. He also has incredible bat speed, strength, a good feel for contact and he can hit for power on the outer half of the plate consistently. Guerrero generated the majority of his power on pitches on the outside half of the plate. However, when it came to pitches inside, he swung down way too often.
Swinging down on pitches is frowned upon because it results in ground balls. It is especially frowned upon for players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr who possess so much power. With that being said, if Vladdy changes his approach to pitches on the inside part of the plate, he’ll be a much more successful hitter. The Blue Jays’ coaches will have to work with him to fix this moving forward.
The reward is too good for the Blue Jays to ignore. If Guerrero Jr changes his approach to pitches in the inner half of the plate, he will be a phenomenal hitter and would reach his full potential as a hitter. Guerrero Jr could finally live up to all the hype he received before his debut.