SURPRISE, Ariz.- It seems everyone involved in baseball in the Valley of the Sun is out to get a look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Who can blame them? The 19-year-old budding star is rated MLB.com’s top overall major-league prospect, and he’s tearing up the Arizona Fall League.
Guerrero, the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, is the star attraction in a league full of stars-to-be. He’s the league leader in hits with 24, second in batting average at .393 and has committed just one error in 15 games, playing third base for the Surprise Saguaros.
“I’m here to play well and get into a rhythm,” Guerrero said in Spanish. “That’s the advantage of being here. Trying to get better every day. The coaches haven’t changed anything with my approach. They just tell me to keep working and do the same thing.”
It’s been a wild year for Guerrero. The prevailing feeling before the 2018 minor-league season began was that he would be in the majors someday, sooner than later, after having success at the Class A level and being named to the World Team for the All-Star Futures Game.
In late March, Guerrero was in the lineup for an exhibition game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in the city where he was born and where his father starred for the Expos.
Guerrero electrified the baseball world with a walk-off home run that night, wearing his dad’s No. 27.
“That was an experience I just don’t have the words to describe,” he said. “It was so great that they invited me to play that game.”
The 2018 season saw Guerrero, who turned 19 in March, thrive at Double-A New Hampshire until a knee injury forced him out for much of June and July. When Guerrero returned to good health, he was assigned to Class AAA Buffalo.
Before joining Buffalo, however, he attended his father’s Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“To see your dad enshrined with all the family there was special,” he said. “I think everyone should get a chance to go there.”
Guerrero didn’t get a September call-up to the Blue Jays despite hitting .381 at four minor-league levels even though Toronto was well out of postseason contention. Instead the Jays assigned him to the Fall League to get him some of the at-bats he missed while injured. Guerrero, as he has at every level of baseball, is raking in the desert.
“I don’t control the place where I play,” Guerrero said when asked about not being called to the majors. “I just do what I do on the field.”
There will be no winter ball for Guerrero, he said, which could indicate that the Blue Jays want him fresh for spring training so he can potentially compete for a major-league roster spot.
Only a handful of spectators attend daily Fall League games. It’s the scouts and media who seem more excited to see what the stocky Dominican will do next. A reporter from Canada’s TSN is covering his daily exploits.
But a big crowd of almost 7,000 turned out at the annual Fall Stars Game between East and West Division standouts Saturday night at Guerrero’s home stadium in Surprise.
Guerrero went 1-for-4, but the one was a ringing double that boomed off the left-field wall. When the ball got away in the infield, Guerrero hustled to third base.
“It’s great being here and having the opportunity to play with all of these prospects.” Guerrero said.
He’s clearly having fun on the field. After striking out to end an inning, he playfully pointed into the East dugout, where players smiled back at him.
“His feel for the game, all the mental things you have to have at third base, he’s getting better,” said Andy Fermin, one of the Saguaros’ coaches. “He’s making the adjustments and looking good over there.”
Besides his father, Guerrero has a cousin to lean on for advice on making it to the majors. Gabriel Guerrero got called up to the Cincinnati Reds in September.
“We talk almost every day, about really everything.” Vlad Jr. said. “He’s playing in the Dominican right now. We’re like brothers.”
Fermin said Guerrero is aware of all the interest in what he does, but that the youngster handles it well.
“He knows that he brings a lot of attention, not only because of his dad but because he’s the No. 1 prospect for us,” Fermin said. “He’s dealing with that really well. He knows how to carry himself on and off the field.”
Featured Image: Icon Sportswire
Inset Image: La Vida Baseball