Guerrero belts another home run for Bisons
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. struck a low and outside pitch that flew like a hard-hit line drive. But the ball carried. And as it landed over the right-field fence for a solo home run, Guerrero appeared one step closer to his major-league debut.
Wednesday marked the first time the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospect played three games in as many days for triple-A Buffalo since suffering an oblique injury in spring training last month.
Batting third as the designated hitter, Guerrero went 2-for-5, including the go-ahead home run in the seventh, as the Bisons beat the Syracuse Mets 5-4.
The 20-year-old said after the game he doesn’t know when he’ll be called up, though there has been speculation it could be Friday when the Blue Jays open a three-game series against the visiting Oakland A’s.
With quick hands and a high bat speed, Guerrero’s ready for Toronto, Bisons hitting coach Corey Hart said. His baseball intelligence and inquisitive nature have Buffalo manager Bobby Meacham confident the usual third baseman will be ready for the bigs.
“Is he good enough to play at the big level? Yes,” Meacham said. “He was two years ago. But you can’t develop really at the big level when you’re that young and you’re still learning that many things.”
Guerrero — born in Montreal when his hall of fame father played for the Expos and raised in the Dominican Republic — is batting .367 with three homers and eight RBIs in eight games with Buffalo this season.
A smile spread across Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo’s face when he was told about Guerrero’s latest home run before Toronto’s game against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.
When asked if Guerrero is ready to slot into a major-league lineup, Montoyo said, “I think so. The funny thing about it is I haven’t seen him play. I just hear everything from everybody else. I saw him in spring training and that’s the only thing I saw, 20 at-bats. But yeah, I think so. I think he’ll come here and do well, for sure.”
Montoyo thinks Guerrero will be just fine when he makes the jump.
“I think we have to be patient, but I honestly think he’s going to do well,” Montoyo said. “Whatever happens we have to be patient defensively, offensively, because he’s 20 years old. … He’s comfortable, he’s not going to be nervous or scared about the big leagues.”
One moment in spring training stands out for Meacham.
The manager notified his players that third baseman shifts could lead to delayed steal opportunities. Having played the position, Meacham said it’s nearly impossible to recover to third base to prevent a steal if it’s delayed and executed properly.
When the moment presented itself, Guerrero didn’t need a tip from his coaches, stealing third on his own. He was the first to exploit the fault in the shift since Meacham explained it, the manager said.
It’s part of how Guerrero thinks about the entire game more than the average player his age, Meacham said.
He watches not only his own at-bats and what the pitchers are throwing, but how the catcher calls the game. Meacham said Guerrero knows how to set a pitcher up — if a curveball strikes him out early in the game, he’s waiting for it later.
“I think it came from playing with older guys that I learn from all the time,” Guererro said through a translator. “And just learning from them and watching them … play. I got it from kind of following their footsteps.”
Bisons teammate Andrew Guillotte certainly is impressed.
“It’s not just raw talent,” Guillotte said. “It’s that coupled with knowledge of the game and exactly the type of player he is and how to execute his plan in the box and on the field too.”
At six foot two and 250 pounds, Guerrero needs to improve his body composition to become more agile and improve his first step at third base, Meacham said. But the team likes his positioning and understanding of the game. Guerrero lines up further off the foul line than normal, which is the preferred position for a third baseman on the Jays.
On Tuesday against Syracuse, it led to a diving play in the hole between third base and the shortstop. Guerrero couldn’t corral the ball for an out, but prevented a runner from scoring with the stop.
“Everybody talks about the offence,” Hart said. “He’s gotten to some balls we didn’t think he’d get to —some hard hit balls.”
Back in Toronto, Montoyo is just like most Jays fans — excited to watch Guerrero in the big leagues.
“I want to see what everyone talks about in person,” Montoyo said.
— with files from Melissa Couto in Toronto.