You Should Maybe Tone Down Your Vlad Expectations (For This Series At Least)
I am well aware that Vlad Jr. has been the talk of the town all over baseball to start the 2019 MLB season, and for good reason. He’s been within the top five of the MLB’s prospect pipeline since 2017 (18 years old) and even jumped up to the top spot in 2018 (19 years old) and has held it ever since. His ridiculous offensive stats in the Minors are enough to get any fan base more than excited for his intro to the big leagues and, in a city dominated by passionate sports fans, the exuberance is heightened that much more.
In a day and age controlled so heavily by social media, fans have never been able to see more of a player and his highlights. Every home run, every RBI, every swing these guys take can be found just about anywhere on the internet if you look hard enough. With all this coverage, it feels like you’re constantly seeing the best guys play at an elite level all the time setting unrealistically high expectations. This holds true with Vlad. I am a firm believer that he is destined to be one of the best hitters in this particular era of baseball and I’ve been on record saying if he stays in Toronto long enough, he’ll be the best Jay ever when it’s all said and done. This is high, yet warranted, praise for a ballplayer who has yet to appear in a single major league game. The thing is, I’m far from the only one who believes this.
With all this being said, and the celebration surrounding the young stud, I do believe some of Jay's fans expectations should be rolled back a little. As I said, Vlad’s going to be an astonishing ballplayer for the Blue Jays (or whoever he plays the majority of his career for) and will be a huge part of this next decade or so in the MLB. However, hitting the ground running while transitioning into the big leagues is much easier said than done. And it sounds really hard.
He’s only 20 years old, born in 1999 making him a year younger than I am. I can’t even imagine doing anything professionally at my age, let alone being in front of cameras and microphones while doing it. At this point in his life, he has had little tastes here and there but, he’s never had to personally deal with the fame of one of the four major sports. Vlad was around the league a bunch as a kid because of his dad (Vlad Guerrero Sr.) who played at an elite level in Montreal, LA, Texas and Baltimore until his son was about 11 or 12 years old. He’s also been around Spring Training where he hit the infamous walk-off home run in Montreal in 2018. That still doesn’t compare to what’s to come. Vlad will constantly be in the spotlight of all major sports outlets in the biggest markets, especially in his very first Major League appearance.
He's also never faced major league pitching. The extent at which he did was in Spring Training where those guys are polishing off their mechanics and making last minute tweaks to their pitch selection. Yeah, guys in AAA are good pitchers, but there’s a stark difference between a major league at-bat and a minor league one. Yes, Vlad has some unnaturally good stats, but they might not translate immediately. The fastballs are more controlled, the breaking balls have more movement and pitch calling is a lot more planned. Acclimating to this more precise style of pitching is extremely tough, even if you’re hitting tool as a prospect rank the highest of all time.
Some of the best hitters in the past couple of decades struggled out of the gate. Guys like Pujols, A-Rod and Trout weren't always these pitcher killers that they became during their career.
(2001) – Called up for St. Louis’s first game of the season
2 hits in 11 AB (.111 BA), 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 2 SO
Pujols turned that poor first series into an amazing career where he has hit over 630 home runs with a batting average over .300.
(2003) – Called up for Seattle’s 85th game of the season
2 hits in 11 AB (.111 BA), 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 RBI and 4 SO
A-Rod didn’t even last the rest of the season playing only 17 games in his first stint in the big leagues hitting only .204 during that time. Despite a bit of a rocky start, he turned out to be one of the best power hitters ever with 696 career home runs and a .295 avg.
(2003) – Called up for Florida’s 75th game of the season
2 hits in 10 AB (.200 BA), 0 BB, 1 HR, 3 RBI and 3 SO
Miggy has been one of the most consistent hitters of this past decade and even won a triple crown in 2012 (best BA, most HR and most RBI).
(2011) – Called up for LA’s 90th game of the season
1 hit in 9 AB (.111 BA), 1 BB, 0 HR, 0 RBI and 1 SO
Trout has become the consensus best player in the game, yet, in his first series wasn’t ready to dominate like people expected him to.
All of these guys had some pretty high expectations coming from the minors to the big leagues but didn’t perform in their very first series, and that’s OK. But, I can’t remember the last prospect who has had this much hype coming into a pro league outside of Zion Williamson. With all that we know about Toronto sports and the Toronto media is that those perceptions can and will turn sour as soon as their expectations aren’t met. Every fan of the MLB has seen Vlad crush the ball countless times because it’s everywhere. You’ll never see him strikeout or pop-up to the catcher so we have these unfair assumptions that all he does is hit 450-foot bombs in every at-bat.
Maybe all of these expectations should be justified and he’ll hit .400 with a couple of home runs in his first three games but I wouldn’t exactly count on that happening. So, Toronto fans don’t get hung up if Vlad doesn’t live up to the hype right away. The MLB is a totally different beast. In fact, if he does succeed right off the bat, maybe we’ll come to see that Vlad is the different beast.