The best defence for Guerrero Jr. reclaiming third could be versatility
Slimmed-down star working on his defence for return to hot corner
Versatility has been the name of the game for the Blue Jays in recent years, but that trait generally isn’t linked to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
On his best days in his first 183 games in the big leagues, Guerrero has been a passable defender at third base. On his worst days, some have wondered if the 21-year-old is destined to be a future designated hitter.
Talk about his wanting skills in field over the past two seasons has frustrated Guerrero, but it’s a difficult conversation to avoid when your organization has publicly identified defence and run prevention as required areas of improvement.
This off-season, Guerrero seems set on changing the narrative that has, in part, defined his early days as a major-leaguer. A stronger commitment to his off-season workout program has resulted in weight loss and this week he began a stint with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, focused on reclaiming his spot at the hot corner after he was moved over to first base in 2020.
“I came to Escogido to play third base and to prepare to play third base,” Guerrero told Spanish media on Tuesday, the day he made his winter ball debut, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout and an RBI as the team’s designated hitter. “That’s one of the main things I’m here for. I’m going to focus on third. Next year, I’m going back to my third base.”
As clear as Guerrero’s desire is when it comes to which position he plays, the final decision on whether he lands at third will not be his. The greatest threat to his goal might be how the rest of the Blue Jays’ offseason plays out, and who the club might acquire before opening day next year.
But a favourable outcome is, at least in part, within Guerrero’s control. Keep up the work rate and Guerrero might be able to convince the front office that any off-season money allotted to replacing Travis Shaw, who manned third last season but was non-tendered earlier this month, would be better spent elsewhere, with Cavan Biggio and prospects like Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans potential options to back up Guerrero.
“I’m focused on getting to spring training in good shape,” Guerrero said. “I’m working on my conditioning. You learn from your mistakes.”
Jays general manager Ross Atkins thinks Guerrero has the hands and the arm for third base, a sentiment that is shared by players and coaches who worked with Guerrero during his minor league days.
“If he’s coming in at the stage he was, the overall body (composition), weight and agility that he had when he was in double-A, it’s realistic to think about him being an impact player at third base,” Atkins told MLB Network last week. “I don’t know how many games, I don’t know for how long, but limiting a 21-year-old doesn’t seem like the best thing to do.”
You could say that about every one of the Jays’ young players. But that also doesn’t mean any of them are guaranteed their preferred spot in the field.
Take Bo Bichette, for example. While Atkins has said Bichette has the stuff to be an everyday shortstop — higher praise than Guerrero has received to date — he also wouldn’t rule out potentially bringing in an impact player at that position. The Jays are rumoured to have interest in multiple players who could force a move for Bichette to another spot on the diamond, like Cleveland Indians all-star Francisco Lindor and Ha-Seong Kim, the Kiwoom Heroes shortstop who is among the most coveted free agents this off-season.
It has long been clear that versatility is among the characteristics the Jays find most attractive in players. While Guerrero may not ultimately earn that third base spot he is working so hard to reacquire, he will surely go into the 2021 season as a player that offers Toronto some level of improved flexibility, be it at first, third or as a DH. That wasn’t always a given with him and it can only benefit both player and club going forward.
“If he’s able to fill in in a couple of spots,” assistant general manager Joe Sheehan said on Tuesday, “that’s a better thing for us, for him in the longterm.”