The wait is over. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is on his way to the big leagues.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Thursday that the club is planning to call up Major League Baseball’s top prospect on Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre.
The question of when the 20-year-old star third baseman would make his jump from Triple-A to the major leagues has dominated the conversation surrounding the club since the start of spring training.
Guerrero is hitting .367 with a 1.124 in 30 at-bats for the Bisons this year, after starting the season on the sidelines because of a left oblique strain suffered in spring training. The injury helped Toronto secure an extra year of control over the infielder by ensuring he would not reach the 172 days that constitute a year’s worth of service time, per Major League Baseball rules.
He told media last Friday in Buffalo that he was ready for his promotion.
“You can see — it’s obvious,” he said. “I’m ready. I feel ready. I can’t control what happens. I just control what I can do.”
Toronto has yet to announce a corresponding move, though there’s concern Freddy Galvis will be forced to the injured list because of a hamstring issue. Galvis was not in the Jays’ starting lineup for a second straight game on Wednesday against San Francisco and a decision will likely be made after Thursday’s off-day.
The son of hall of famer Vladimir Guerrero, Vladimir Jr. was a touted international prospect when he signed with the Jays in July 2015 for a $3.9-million (U.S.) bonus. He hit .331 during his meteoric rise through the minor leagues, blazing through the ranks from rookie ball to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in a little more than two years.
The Montreal-born slugger who grew up in the Dominican Republic is the first and most touted prospect among a number of talented young players expected to make their debuts for Toronto in the coming seasons, a group that including the likes of Bo Bichette, the Jays’ No. 2 prospect, infielder Cavan Biggio, top pitching prospect Nate Pearson and infielder Kevin Smith, among others. It is those players who the Jays hope will lead the team back to contention starting in 2021.
Guerrero arrives in the major leagues with high expectations. The 2019 Steamer projections published by FanGraphs predict Guerrero will hit .306 in 122 games this season with 22 home runs, 77 RBIs and a 4.6 WAR, good for 14th in the game.
He went 2-for-5 in his final game for the Bisons against the Syracuse Mets on Wednesday morning, hitting a laser solo home run over the right field wall to earn Buffalo a 5-4 win. It marked the first time he has played three consecutive games this season, and the first time he has played a day game after a night contest.
He could struggle on defence, an area of his game the Jays have already said Guerrero will need to continue developing once he is promoted. Toronto has played three players at third base this season — Brandon Drury in 19 games, Richard Urena in three games and Eric Sogard once. While Guerrero will spend some time in the field, the Jays could also employ him as a designated hitter or possibly at first base if the need arises.
“That’s why everybody plays everywhere here,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday before his club faced the Giants. “If he comes, Brandon will play second; Vlad might DH some days so Brandon will go back to third. Everybody plays everywhere.”
Guerrero has received rave reviews for the way he has handled all the attention directed his way as the game’s top prospect but one player does not make a team and those in the organization have cautioned that his promotion won’t come without bumps in the road.
“His ability to handle (Triple-A) is key, because this is nothing compared to what he’s going to have to handle when he goes 0-for-20 and makes five errors in a week, which could happen,” Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said last week. “This is the easy part where everybody loves him and thinks he’s the greatest. The toughest part is knowing there’s going to be days when it’s not going to be like that.”
Before news of Guerrero’s promotion broke, Montoyo said he could see the young slugger slotting comfortably into a big-league lineup. He also added that just because Guerrero is now a major-leaguer doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.
“Whatever happens, we have to be patient defensively, offensively, because he’s 20 years old,” Montoyo said. “He’s got ‘it’, he’s comfortable, he’s not going to be nervous or scared about the big leagues … I think he’ll be fine when he comes here.”
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy