His hitting exploits have already made him a social media sensation. He has a Hall of Fame father, a dynamic swing and an electric presence. His at-bats promise to be must-see viewing from the very start -- and the very start is now.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will make his much-anticipated major league debut for the Blue Jays Friday at Toronto against the Oakland Athletics. We asked three of our national baseball writers for their takes on what the moment means and what they expect from Baby Vlad.
When was the last time you were this excited for a prospect to reach the majors?
Jeff Passan: June 8, 2010. I remember traveling to Nationals Park for Stephen Strasburg's debut fueled by a concoction of curiosity and hype. And when he struck out 14 Pirates amid seven glowing innings, the home run he gave up to Delwyn Young didn't spoil anything. This was curiosity sated and hype warranted. It felt like the beginning of something special. It has not become that. Strasburg, now 30, isn't that transcendent pitcher he seemed that night. But it's still a game that resonates clearly nearly a decade later.
David Schoenfield: Kris Bryant was the biggest story of spring training in 2015. He'd hit .325 with 43 home runs in the minors in 2014 -- and, remember, that was a season when offense across the majors collapsed to its lowest levels in more than three decades. Bryant was the best power-hitting prospect in a long time, plus there was the soap opera of whether he would make the Opening Day roster. He didn't and made his debut on April 17, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. But he homered the next game and was the MVP as a sophomore as the Cubs ended their World Series drought.
Bradford Doolittle: "Excited" might be a strong word, but I must admit I had a very similar feeling of anticipation this season for the arrival of Eloy Jimenez as I do for Baby Vlad. It's probably because I haven't seen Guerrero play in person yet, although his epic moonshots that people have shared on social media have been great. I saw Jimenez for the first time in spring training last year, though, and the ball coming off his bat was just notably different. So I couldn't wait to see him in Chicago, and I have to say, so far I have not been disappointed. There could be a great race between Jimenez and Guerrero for this year's AL rookie award.
Vlad Jr. takes 1st batting practice with Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. takes batting practice at the Blue Jays' facility prior to his 1st MLB appearance.
Who was the last prospect to enter the majors with this much buzz around his name?
Passan: Has to be Bryce Harper, right? The kid who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15 years old and skipped his senior year of high school and slayed the minor leagues before debuting in the majors at 19. And remember, Harper really played only one full season in the minors. We've had to wait nearly two extra years for Vlad Jr.
Schoenfield: Bryant or Harper. In Harper's case, his buzz surpassed Vlad Jr.'s, given all the attention given to him since that SI cover. Heck, I remember listening to the radio broadcast of his first minor league game.
Doolittle: I'm going to keep waving the Eloy Jimenez banner. The kid is special.
Who does Vlad Jr. remind you most of as a hitter?
Passan: To say his Hall of Fame father would be fair because so much of what Junior does well -- hit the ball hard, go to all fields, make contact -- mirrors Pops. I'm going to go with a contemporary of the elder Vlad: Manny Ramirez. The swing is powerful and consistent. The eye isn't otherworldly but good enough. The bat-to-ball ability is keen. It's just Vlad Jr. being Vlad Jr.
Schoenfield: The comparisons to his dad are pretty obvious, but I'm going to bring up Mike Piazza. I always described Piazza as looking like he's swinging a sledgehammer up there. That's what Junior reminds me of, whipping a big ol' hammer through the zone. Piazza started with the bat more straight up, while Guerrero has it flatter behind his head, but the swing and follow-through are similar. Piazza was a great contact hitter with power (he never struck out 100 times), and that's what Guerrero projects to be as well.
Doolittle: It's easy to say his father, and there are some obvious similarities. But I don't think Vlad Sr. had the same kind of raw power, and his swing was longer. Junior's combination of exit velocity with elite bat-to-ball skills is hard to match. Statistically, Miguel Cabrera is a pretty good match, or at least a good target for Junior to shoot for. Guerrero doesn't release his top hand on his swing like Miggy does, though. I guess the best combination of numbers forecast and swing mechanics is probably Manny Ramirez.
What's your favorite Vlad Jr. viral moment/story from his career so far?
Passan: The Montreal home run. Barely 19 years old, playing in an exhibition game in the stadium his father owned once upon a time, Vlad Jr. broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth with a majestic home run off a pitcher, Jack Flaherty, who looks more and more like an elite major leaguer. It was a perfect snapshot of what Vlad Jr. can be and what he can do -- all in front of a crowd that by the time he's a veteran could have a team of its own.
Schoenfield: Definitely the home run in Montreal. Proof that he probably should have been in the majors last season.
Doolittle: Ditto the Montreal home run. When was the last time there was that kind of memorable moment in one of those end-of-spring exhibition games?
Predict Vlad Jr.'s 2019 stat line.
Passan: .301/.372/.515 with 22 home runs, 78 RBIs, 72 runs scored, 3 stolen bases and 18 errors.
Schoenfield: FanGraphs projects a .306/.371/.517 line with 19 home runs in 106 games. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll play more than 106 games, so he may go over on the power -- although I wonder if it will take another season before the power fully arrives as he'll learn to better launch the ball in the air. So I'll go .315 with 18 home runs.
Doolittle: .295/.358/.490 with 23 homers, 76 RBIs and minus-11 defensive runs saved.
Predict Vlad Jr.'s next five years: How many All-Star appearances and MVPs -- and what category will he lead the majors in first?
Passan: Four All-Star appearances, one MVP, and he'll win a batting title first.
Schoenfield: I'll go five All-Star appearances (hey, look at the Blue Jays roster -- he could make it this season), no MVPs (not enough of an all-around game and the Jays don't look close to playoff contention), and I see him as a batting title guy more than a home run title guy.
Doolittle: Four All-Star appearances. Zero MVPs. A batting title seems inevitable. He's a .346 hitter for his career in the minors at a time when the AL and NL have a hard time populating a top 10 with .300 hitters.
Across any sport or beyond sports, who's your all-time favorite Junior?
Passan: Sorry, Vlad, but you've got a long way to go to top Martin Luther King Jr.
Schoenfield: How are you supposed to follow up Martin Luther King Jr.? Cuba Gooding Jr.? Ed Begley Jr.? Junior Spivey? How about Junior Ortiz. I once lost a sim league playoff game when Junior Ortiz hit a home run -- in a season in which he hit zero home runs in real life. Not that I'm still bitter or anything 29 years later.
Doolittle: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Not to overstate my own literary accomplishments, but his work had meaningful impact on how I view writing. His father, by the way, was an architect.