Vlad Guerrero’s Blue Jay homer breakout hints at what lies ahead
|Toronto Star 15 May 2019 at 19:13|
Baseball’s top prospect had been in the big leagues for 13 games by the time the team took off Sunday night for a two-game series against the Giants, which began Tuesday in San Francisco.
The 20-year-old third baseman scuffled as much as he ever had in his first two weeks and two days in the big leagues: a .191 batting average, two extra-base hits, a lone RBI. Not the booming bat that was anticipated with his promotion in late April.
But the belief in Guerrero was clear, even before he started to put together better at-bats and hit the ball with more force over the weekend: The hits, the home runs, were going to come. It was a sentiment echoed by coaches and teammates alike.
He proved them right in a breakout game on Tuesday night at Oracle Park: two long homers in a 3-for-4 performance, driving in four runs in a 7-3 victory. He became the youngest Jay to hit a home run — beating Danny Ainge by a few days — with a blast that spawned a special edition Topps baseball card (released Wednesday and on sale for 24 hours).
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Guerrero is also the youngest player in franchise history to hit two homers in a game — logically — and the first Jay in the Statcast era, spanning five years, to launch two long balls with an exit velocity of at least 110 miles per hour (111.3 and 113.7, respectively) in the same contest.
His first-inning drive travelled 438 feet to straightaway centre field, over the head of former Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar. In the sixth, another blast to centre, this time 451 feet.
Guerrero had arrived — a little late, but in style.
“I did know,” Guerrero, through interpreter Hector Lebron, told reporters in San Francisco about his first homer. “I made very good contact. I hit it on the barrel and I knew it was going to be good.”
It’s not going to be good every day, though, as he knows after struggling early on. In Wednesday’s 4-3 loss in San Francisco, splitting their two-game series, Guerrero went 0-for-3 with a walk and an RBI groundout that tied the game in the fifth inning.
His average sits at .222 with a .693 OPS as the Jays prepare to open a four-game series against the White Sox in Chicago on Thursday night.
What manager Charlie Montoyo and the rest of the Jays staff will look for next is consistency. Guerrero has twice played five straight games in the field, an indication that his body is holding up well in the big-league grind — particularly on the Rogers Centre’s artificial turf — after starting the season on the injured list with a strained oblique.
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He has put together a pair of three-game hit streaks, one of which was snapped on Wednesday. But with Toronto’s offence needing a spark — just five hits Wednesday — and Montoyo singling out Guerrero as one of the players who could provide it, the Jays will need more than just a few good performances from the budding superstar.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie who was wearing a Buffalo Bisons jersey not long ago, but the Jays spent time preparing Guerrero for this moment — how to handle the spotlight, how clubhouse leadership works.
After his long-awaited call-up, there was always the question of how he would react to his first big-league slump. So far, he’s passing that test. And more homers will come. Just ask hall of famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr., who hit 449 of them.
“This is the first of many,” he tweeted Tuesday. (I’m) proud of you boy.”