5 Things We Noticed in Vlad's Debut Series
After dominating the minor leagues for three seasons, with a .331/.413/.531 slash line in 288 minor league games, the most highly touted prospect in Blue Jays’ history was the main attraction and on display in Toronto’s concluding series of their home stand versus Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had a .945 OPS in his minor league career, succeeds many all-stars currently in the MLB today, including reigning MVPs Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. With this ability to hit for average and power, fans had high expectations for the 20 year old phenom. Fans sitting in home run territory were hoping to grab a hold of Guerrero’s first career home run ball during his debut over the past weekend. While fans sitting in the bleachers were disappointed not to see a Vladimir bomb, I was able to notice very promising tendencies “Vlad” exhibited in his thirteen plate appearances.
Here are five notable Vlad characteristics noticed over the past weekend.
Pitch Recognition and Plate Discipline
Usually young hitters, especially at the tender age of twenty tend to have undisciplined approaches to their plate appearances, including Vlad’s own father Vladimir Guerrero Sr. During the entire three game series, Oakland pitchers were trying to ahead in the count by tempting Vlad to chase pitches outside the zone, particularly breaking balls. With exception to a two strike count, all breaking balls thrown to Vlad were low and away and located outside of the strike zone. Vlad successfully laid off all these temptations and was able to get ahead in the count as a result of his patience. In addition, it’s not like high rising fastballs tempted Guerrero either. When breaking balls early in the count were not helping Oakland pitchers start the at-bats ahead in the count, Oakland reverted to high and outside fastballs, a pitch tempting to many sluggers in today’s MLB.
I was also very impressed with Vlad’s pitch selection. Especially in his debut, Vlad was very patient in waiting for his pitch. It was evident that Oakland pitchers were attacking the lower and outer half of the strike zone to Vlad. In his at-bats, Vlad waited for the pitch to be to his liking and was very aggressive on pitches that leaked over the plate and were up. If Vlad continues to be patient and hits “his” pitches, watch out for Vlad to make consistent solid contact, including some of those being souvenirs.
His recognition, discipline and knowledge off the plate allowed Guerrero Jr. to get ahead in the count on multiple occasions over the weekend and contributed to some very quality at-bats. Over his 13 plate appearances, Vlad found himself ahead in the count 9 times after the first pitch. Starting 1-0 in an at-bat is a lot different than 0-1.
Now, based on this review so far, it sounds like Vlad has it all. However, I found in games two and three of this series, especially when there were runners in scoring position, Vlad’s selective nature seemed to veer and he began chasing some fastballs up. I’m not sure whether he wants RBI #1 to get off his mind and its making him anxious, but being more selective when runners are in scoring position should allow Vlad to get ahead in the count in more dangerous situations.
Using the Ballpark
The shift has taken the league by storm and has revolutionized the way infielders specifically set-up on defense. Many players that can hit for power typically have a strong shift to their pull side. However, all 13 plate appearances showed the Oakland defense playing straight away. Now I know this is early in Vlad’s career but there’s good reason that this formation was consistent over the weekend. The tendency to pull the ball can be difficult to overcome as a young hitter and typically takes some coaching sessions. However, Vlad seems to have figured this aspect out. I mentioned earlier that Oakland pitchers attached the outside part of the plate, and Vlad’s spray chart could also tell you that as well. In 8 balls put in play over the three games, Vlad hit five to the opposite field. Vlad showed to me that he’ll stay back on pitches away and drive it to the opposite field, including a deep fly out to the right-center alley. If the left-field bleachers are sold out, fans shouldn’t be hesitant to purchases tickets over the opposing right field bullpen if they want a Vladdy home run.
When Vlad swings… he swings. He definitely gets his money’s worth at the dish when he sees a pitch to his liking. The bat speed of Vlad is very noticeable, flying through the zone, resulting in a hard contact rate of 83.33%. This bat speed generated some solid contact for outs over the weekend, including a warning track fly out, after a great catch by Robbie Grossman and a line out hit right at infielder, Chad Pinder. Those are a couple instances where contact similarly made in future at-bats will usually result in base hits. Despite going only 3 for 12 over the weekend, his bat speed and exit velocity, with strong plate discipline shows promise as we get a larger sample size.
Knowing your Role
I was very impressed in Vlad’s ability to understand his role at the plate. He had two varying plate approaches when he was batting with nobody on vs runners in scoring position. A lot of people have been discussing the variances in Vlad’s tendencies between Friday and Saturday. This in large part is because Vlad did not bat with a runner on base on Friday, in comparison to hitting with runners on base in 4 of the 5 plate appearances. Vlad was very patient, working the counts and not trying to do too much when there were no runners on. Essentially, he understood that he needed to be a leadoff guy, trying to get on base for the next guy to drive him home and he was successful, getting two of his three hits with nobody on and all three of his hits with no one in scoring position (going 3 for 11 with runners not in scoring position).
When there were runners in scoring position, there was a new Vlad. He became very aggressive in his plate appearances, swinging hard and often, evident that his intention was to drive in runs. Vlad began swinging much earlier in the counts, however as said before he began swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. He went 0 for 2 with 2 strikeouts with runners in scoring position. I credit this lack of discipline to Vlad’s anxiousness in wanted to get that first RBI, however, I’m sure the coaching staff will be directing Vlad’s attention to these plate appearances on tomorrow’s off day. I like the aggressiveness but Vlad needs to maintain the same discipline when it comes to swinging at balls versus strikes.
Defense was at question when determining whether Vlad Jr. was MLB ready. I believe this was the reason why he was not called up sooner, as he hadn’t appeared as even a September call-up prior to his debut. However, Vlad’s defense was on display this weekend. In four fielding attempts, he made all plays error-free and even added a nice defensive play in his debut, making a nice dig while coming in on a ground ball. Again, this is another small sample size and we’ll have to keep an eye on his defensive progression going forward this season, but as of right now, there’s promise he won’t be a lifetime designated hitter.