DUNEDIN, Fla. – Ross Atkins doesn’t want to put a timetable on the eventual major league debut of baseball’s top prospect.
The Blue Jays general manager said he’s looking at Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first full major league spring training as yet another significant step in the stud third baseman’s development.
“This will be more information to understand what’s best for him and the next step,” Atkins told reporters on Thursday before the first official spring training workout for pitchers and catchers. “He’s 19 years old, he’s handled the expectations of competing at the highest level and being very good at that. …
“There’s no firm timeline on when he arrives and when he’s playing in Toronto for the first time. We want to make sure he’s the best possible third baseman, the best possible hitter he can be and this is going to be a fun and exciting time for him and for the organization.”
Position players, including Guerrero – who batted .389 in the minors last season – don’t have to report to Toronto’s spring complex in Florida until Monday.
WATCH: Montoyo says he’s excited to coach Vlad Jr.
Delaying Guerrero’s major league debut benefits the team from a business standpoint. Toronto would gain another year of control over the Dominican superstar if he spends slightly less than a full season on the 25-man roster in 2019.
Players typically require three full years of service time before they’re eligible for arbitration, the process that allows them to accelerate their salary before hitting free agency.
Atkins maintained Thursday that they would handle the situation based on the needs of both Guerrero and the team.
“We focus on development, we focus on what’s best for that player to be a better player and what’s best for the Toronto Blue Jays,” he said.
“Everyone is aware of timelines and the rules of the game. … We’re just going to focus on putting the best team together and how we help Vladdy become a better player and that’s not different for any player,” Atkins added.
Guerrero, the son of Hall of Famer and former Expo Vladimir Guerrero, tore through double-A and triple-A pitching in 2018, hitting .402 through 61 games with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and .336 in 30 games with the Buffalo Bisons.
He’s done what he can to prove he’s ready for a promotion to the majors, but Atkins said spending six weeks before the season on the big league side of camp will only help Guerrero – and the other young players on Toronto’s roster – in the future.
“I’m saying we’ll see how spring training progresses. This will be an important part … of his development,” he said. “First major league spring training, first time he’s here on a regular basis. Being in and around the major league environment and playing on a regular basis (against) other major league teams will be an important part of his development.”
New manager Charlie Montoyo, who travelled down to the Dominican Republic to see Guerrero and some other Blue Jays players during this off-season, echoed the GM’s sentiment.
“It’s all about developing,” Montoyo said. “He’s going to compete just like everybody else. He’s going to get chances to compete and make the club. The one thing with Vlad, because I haven’t seen him (play) personally, I’m going to enjoy just watching him play.
“And if for some reason he doesn’t make the club I have Bobby Meacham (the manager at triple-A) down there who I trust, who’s been around, who’s a player development guy. I’ll communicate with him every day and we’ll go from there.”
Atkins also said he’s not worried about Guerrero being negatively impacted mentally by starting the season in Buffalo.
“We’re so far away from that and where he is and making that decision,” he said. “We’ll see where we are at that point. He’s handled frustration, he’s handled performing extremely well so I’m confident he’ll continue to do that.”
“I’m impressed with that, how comfortable he is,” Montoyo added. “At that age, with all the press and stuff, you don’t teach that. He’s born with that.”
© 2019 The Canadian Press