Richard Griffin: How calling up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could go down for Blue Jays

Richard Griffin: How calling up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could go down for Blue Jays
Major-league baseball is becoming a young man’s game. Every week it seems some team is bringing one of its top young prospects to The Show and tossing him right into the fire.

One commonality is that you don’t want a youngster sitting on the bench, so teams that promote a future star are going all in.

Consider the number of 25-man roster players, plus those on disabled and restricted lists, who are younger than 24 years old. As of Thursday, there were 61.

Young high school draftees and international free agents are fast-tracking to the majors more and more, promoted to the big club during the season — in order to preserve that extra year of control before free agency — after spending less than a full season at either Double-A or Triple-A.

I have long been of the belief that bringing potential stars to the majors at a younger age, without the traditional full season at each minor-league level, is the only way for MLB to compete with the NBA and NFL for the best athletes. The others are major pro sports where instant success is more likely, with no in-between years of long bus rides and cheap hotels to dread before you sign.

The 10 youngest players on MLB rosters as of Thursday were: Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (19); Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (20), right-hander Mike Soroka (20), left-hander Luiz Gohara (21) and second baseman Ozzie Albies (21); Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (21); Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (21); Cardinals right-hander Jordan Hicks (21); Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias (21); and A’s infielder Franklin Barreto (22).

Of that group of horsehide prodigies, four made their MLB debuts in 2018: Hicks on March 29; Acuna on April 25; the Canadian phenom Soroka on May 1; and most recently, the teenaged Soto on May 20.

That being said, there is clear precedent for the Blue Jays to reach down to Double-A New Hampshire and promote Vladimir Guerrero Jr. some time soon.

Consider that all three of the teams that promoted youngsters who made their debuts this year — the Nats, Cards and Braves — are contenders and above .500, while the Jays’ hopes are disappearing faster than June 12 reservations at the Singapore Marriott.

Through Thursday with the Double-A Fisher Cats, Guerrero was batting .427 with nine homers, 46 RBIs and a 1.186 OPS. He had walked 18 times with just 17 strikeouts in 185 plate appearances. Using pre-season rankings by the respected Baseball America Prospect Handbook, which rates players based on the five accepted baseball tools, Guerrero ranked ahead of Acuna, Torres, Soto and all the other position players who have been promoted. Vlad’s overall 75 ranking was tied with Shohei Ohtani.

As an assist to the Blue Jays’ brass in planning the proper timing of Guerrero’s ascension to the majors, here is a suggested guideline.

TRIPLE-A BUFFALO: Jays GM Ross Atkins is a fan of prospects gaining experience at every level in the farm system before staying in the majors for good. Sure, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went straight from the Fisher Cats to the majors, but that was out of necessity and with the internal understanding that Gurriel would be going back to the minors at some point. Atkins could promote Guerrero to the Bisons on June 5 as they embark on a six-game road trip to Toledo and Columbus. There is an off-day on the Monday as the June draft gets underway. The Bisons being on a six-game trip would take away from any media zoo that might surround him, a caravan coming down the QEW from Toronto if he were to be promoted and play his first games in Buffalo.

BLUE JAYS: If things went well for Vlad on that Triple-A swing through the Midwest — maybe even if they didn’t, as long as he remained healthy — Guerrero could join the Jays in Tampa on June 11 for a three-game series against the Rays. If the Jays are looking for a small media market where he would not face the glare of the spotlight, Tropicana Field is it. Plus, the entire support system of the Jays’ front office and player development is just up the road in Dunedin.

ROGERS CENTRE: Following the three-game set in St. Pete, the Jays have an off-day at home on June 14. Guerrero could get settled in Toronto, find a condo and have 24 hours of calm. On June 15, the Jays open a five-game homestand against the Nationals and Braves, teams that have already promoted their own stud youngsters. The Rays series and the off-day would give fans time to purchase tickets for their saviour’s debut. The Rogers Centre would be 2015 crazy.

Utilizing that June 11 date for promotion would give Junior the potential for 112 days of 2018 service time, meaning the Jays would surely avoid having Guerrero become Super-2 arbitration eligible following the 2020 season, and would still have him for that seventh year before free agency after the 2023 schedule.

If Guerrero is as good as advertised, however, the Jays would be silly not to have him inked to a long-term deal well before he ever reaches free agency, something that buys out at least three seasons of free agency at market value.

As for the obvious question of how Guerrero and Josh Donaldson, potentially their two best hitters, can coexist defensively — both play third base — the answer is in thinking outside the box.

Donaldson wants to post the best offensive numbers he can heading into his own free agency, but Donaldson also wants to win. If Vlad can help them win, the other details can be worked out.
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