The Toronto Blue Jays’ “Third Baseman of the Future” might not be one of the more obvious candidates
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Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a young baseball player. He was highly regarded – near the top of most prospect lists – and seen as pretty much a sure-thing major leaguer. The only issue was his defense. He played third base, and his defense there was <ahem> “unimpressive” – likely due in part to his weight. He was listed at 240 pounds, despite being not much over 6 feet.
When he made it to the bigs, his issues on defense became readily evident. His Statcast Outs Above Average at third was terrible – near the bottom in the majors among full-time 3B. Everyone said that he would never make a decent third baseman, and the sooner he was moved to first (or to a full-time DH role) the better.
Am I talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2019? Actually, no – I am talking about Rafael Devers in 2017 and 2018.
So let me continue my story.
\After two years of disappointing production, the message got through for Raffy. In the 2018-19 offseason he hired a personal trainer, and initiated a conditioning regime. Not just to lose weight, but also
“Just changing my habits,” Devers said. “Fortifying the muscles so that the shoulder injury I had last year won’t happen again. Or anything for that matter.”
Devers came to camp lighter (one site says he briefly got below 200 lbs!) but more importantly stronger and quicker. What happened then, as they say, is history. A 5.9 fWAR season, with 156 games played and a 132 wRC+. 12th in AL MVP voting. And that ugly outs above average of -9 in 2017 and -10 in 2018? Well, in 2019 Raffy was a +6 – tying him for the 4th best defensive 3B in baseball.
Can you see where I am going with this?
Vladimir Guerrero Jr had an equally poor rookie season at 3B (worse, actually – he was -16 OOA). When the team moved him to first base in 2020, allegedly for conditioning reasons, things did not get much better – Vladdy was a -2 OOA in only 44 attempts (the equivalent of about a -15 in a full season).
But play the game of “what if” with me. What if, after two seasons of sub-par performance (and with the example of his friend Raffy’s 2019) the light has dawned for Vladito? He was said to have shown up for the original spring training in 2020 is much better shape, with writers noting that “he entered the 2019-2020 offseason with a strict workout regime and goals to both lose weight and get stronger to improve his durability. A number of videos posted to the internet over the last few months have documented the process.” But, like several other players, he found it difficult to maintain his regime during the second, mini off-season and by summer camp many of those gains had been lost.
What if Vladdy repeats his conditioning program this upcoming offseason, with perhaps even more motivation, and shows up to camp looking like a 2019 Devers? The key tools for a successful third baseman are good eye-hand coordination and a strong throwing arm. Guerrero’s eye (if you can judge by his batting) is well above average, and he has a 60-grade arm. With the faster reflexes that would come with better condition, he could easily be a solid-to-above-average defensive 3B – just as Devers became.
The bottom line
When asked about Vladdy’s future a few weeks ago, “Atkins would not commit to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as the Jays’ first baseman of the future, not wanting to close the door on the 21-year-old playing third base. Guerrero worked at the hot corner between games this year. Atkins said he would have felt comfortable playing him at third base toward the end of the season.” Clearly, it would solve a lot of problems for the Jays if Vladdy could play third – and clearly the Blue Jays think so as well.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.