They began the 2017 season as two highly hyped teenaged prospects. Vladimir Guerrero Jr (#3) and Bo Bichette (#25) ended it as two of the top minor league hopefuls (according to MLB Pipeline) in the game.
Along the way, the pair swept up some Midwest League honours. Guerrero was named the league’s top prospect by Baseball America, and Bichette took home the MVP award, as well as being named the MWL’s 3rd top prospect by BA. Only Padres’ prospect Fernando Tatis Jr stood in their way. In the Florida State League, it was a clean sweep by the duo, with Guerrero ranked 1st and his infield mate Bichette 2nd.
It was quite a ride this summer for the pair. A visitor to Lansing on the Lugnuts’ opening weeking was not at all surprised by their rapid ascencion. Both have outstanding work ethics which was evident in pre-game drills and practice, and both take a serious, studious approach to the game.
Vladdy Jr was dominant in full season play at an age where he would be graduating from high school if he had grown up stateside. His .425 OBP led the minors, while Bichette, in his second pro season, led minor league baseball with a combined (between Lansing and Dunedin) .362 average, leading many to question how he lasted until mid-way through the second round of last year’s draft.
The comparisons between Guerrero and his soon-to-be Hall of Fame Father are many, and they really should stop. Sr was a five-tool player for almost all of his career; Jr does not compare in terms of his defensive abilities or his speed. Dad was known to have a strike zone roughly similar to the Big O roof in terms of size; Son has already gained a reputation as an astute manager of the strike zone (his plate discipline, stat-wise, is better than Joey Votto’s at the same stage in their minor league careers). This is not to say that one is better than the other – both are impact, middle-of-the-order bats.
Bichette’s bat wrap caused some scouts concern in his draft year. He has quieted it down, although he still has a pronounced and noticeable movement with it as he starts his swing. But it’s his approach that had him flirting with .400 in late June. Bichette uses the whole field, and unlike many players today, is willing to sacrifice some power in order to shorten his swing and protect the plate with two strikes. The result is often solid contact.
The concern about both is their ultimate destination on the diamond, and in that regard, the pair appear to be heading in opposite directions. Guerrero is rated by scouts as having above average arm strength, but his size and relative lack of speed are factors. Guerrero makes up for some of his lack of range with his outstanding instincts and reactions to ground balls, and the Blue Jays are more than content to leave him at 3rd for now, but there seems to be a growing consensus that he will move across the infield one day.
Scouts for now appear to be giving Bichette a better-than-average shot at sticking at Short Stop. Other SSs may cover more ground or having more arm strength, but Bichette gets to a great deal of the balls hit in his direction. Under the guidance of the High Performance Department, Bichette has developed a more explosive first step, and coupled with a more focused pre-pitch set-up, he’s slowly increasing his range. In a Sportsnet feature, Bichette admitted that defense wasn’t something he worked on a great deal as a high schooler, but he’s making up for that as a pro in a hurry. Like Guerrero, he may ultimately move positions, but he will be playing Short for the foreseeable future.
The sky is the limit for the pair. Both profile as high baseball IQ, impact offensive players. Their bats will carry them to the big leagues. The 18 year old Guerrero has stated that he wants to be in the bigs by the time he’s 20, and several national writers claimed this season that they could see him there by next summer, but the Blue Jays are not about to rush the timeline for either player. As Mark Shapiro said last week, if the Blue Jays found themselves in the middle of a pennant race late next July, and were in need of a bat, and Guerrero had proven himself through the first 3-4 months of his minor league season (wherever that might be, likely New Hampshire by then), then there’s always a chance fans could see the prodigy in Toronto. That’s a lot of “ifs,” however, and the planets would have to align perfectly for that to happen.
Both teenagers likely had major adjustments to make in their first full season. Guerrero’s numbers predicatably tailed off a bit in June, and then again in July as he made adjustments following his promotion to Dunedin. Bichette was consistent throughout the season’s first five months, but he hit only .263/.329/.421 in August. The long season undoubtedly took its toll on the pair, but it served as an excellent experience for the future.
C Max Pentecost, whose development has been significantly delayed by shoulder issues, checked in at 16th on BA’s Florida State League list. There is little doubt about his bat, which has plus power potential, and his receiving skills have surprisingly showed well despite the rust that came with not having behind the plate for almost three years. He showed plus arm strength, and good blocking skills. The question will always be about Pentecost’s health. He did not Catch in back-to-back games this year, and BA speculates that he may develop into a hyrbird player like an Evan Gattis, Catching and seeing time in LF to keep his bat in the lineup. So far in the Arizona Fall League, Pentecost has caught twice a week, with a day’s rest between games. He has struggled against the advanced AFL pitching, going hitless in 15 straight PAs at one point, but he broke out and was a triple shy of the cycle in a huge 4-6 game last week.
The tools are there for Pentecost, but the Blue Jays may face a decision shortly: keep him full time behind the plate, or begin to exploit his athleticism by starting to play him in the OF on occasion. That decision may come as early as this year.
Neither LHP Ryan Borucki, who started the year with Dunedin and finished in Buffalo, nor TJ Zeuch, who missed two months’ action due to injury, made the list, but according to BA’s John Manuel (who has since accepted a scouting job with the Twins), both merited consideration. Manuel comped Borucki with J.A. Happ, and while that’s an intriguing one, Happ’s changeup is not in the same league as Borcuki’s. Zeuch has dominated Arizona Fall League pitching, indicating that he might well had made this list if not for the fact that he made only two starts after May.
OF Edward Olivares made huge strides in his development in a breakout year that started at Lansing, and finished at Dunedin. Lost a bit in the Vladdy/Bo hype, Olivares hit 17 Homers before his promotion, and popped up on the prospect radar. BA’s Kyle Glaser had an interesting observation about him:
Olvares got a lot of love from scouts. Had a couple bring him up unprompted. Huge range in center field, plus runner, plus arm, good bat speed. There are some concerns about his setup and load and most evaluators see fringy power production moving forward once he faces better pitching, and in a deep MWL there are just more guys scouts saw as everyday-type players. Olivares is good though, and don’t be shocked if he keeps climbing
Olivares is not a Top 10 guy at the moment, but after being nowhere near the conversation about Blue Jays top farmhands last year, he has worked his way in, and bears future watching. He’s one of those potential five-tool guys who can play all three OF positions.