Guerrero Jr. makes Triple-A debut after stop in Cooperstown
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Spending the weekend in Cooperstown, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. received a reminder of how much dedication it took his father to earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It was a timely lesson for Guerrero now that minor league baseball’s acclaimed top prospect has entered the next phase of his career.
“I feel really happy that my dad achieved that, that he got there because it showed how much work he did to get there,” Guerrero said through a translator, Toronto Blue Jays mental performance coach Rafael Dubois. “And right now, it’s just keep working, keep working. And I’m happy that I’m here now.”
Here is Buffalo, where the 19-year-old made his Triple-A debut with the Blue Jays’ top affiliate Tuesday night. And he did so wearing No. 27, the same number his father, Vladimir Guerrero, had during a 16-year major league career capped by his induction on Sunday.
Hitting third, Guerrero drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to left-center with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. The ball was headed for the gap before left fielder Adron Chambers made a diving catch.
He also walked each of his first three times up, grounded out to second and scored twice in Buffalo’s 11-8 loss.
Guerrero shrugged off the lack of good pitches he faced, saying he’s been working on being patient. And he showed little frustration after being robbed of a potential extra-base hit.
“I felt good at the plate, and the left fielder gets paid to do that,” he said.
Guerrero made two notable defensive plays at third base in the second inning.
He snagged a hard one-hopper while falling backward, and calmly threw out Joey Meneses. Aaron Altherr, the next batter, hit a high bouncer up the line, which Guerrero backhanded, and he threw a one-hopper to just beat the runner.
Bisons manager and former major leaguer Bobby Meacham was impressed by Guerrero’s overall performance and how he carried himself on the field and in the dugout.
“You saw a lot of special things even without a hit,” Meacham said. “I’m almost glad he didn’t get a hit because there’s more to a big-league ballplayer, there’s more to being a really good ballplayer than getting hits.”
The only thing to slow Guerrero’s trajectory since signing a $3.9 million contract with Toronto when he was 16 was a strained left knee ligament that forced him to miss a little over a month with Double-A New Hampshire.
He returned July 19, went 10 for 29 with three home runs and five RBIs in seven games and was promoted. Overall with New Hampshire this season, he has a .402 batting average, with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 61 games.
“You could tell right away there’s a little something different about him,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said before Toronto’s game at Oakland. “He’s got a nice big smile. It’s easier to smile when you’re that good naturally. He really enjoys what he’s doing.”
Gibbons had no timetable on how long Guerrero will spend in Buffalo.
“He’ll play there for a while,” he said. “They’ve got, what, one more month left in their season? After that, I couldn’t tell you.”
In Toronto, fans are already awaiting the youngster’s arrival to spark an underperforming team that’s suddenly decided to retool for the future. At one recent home game, someone posted a sign on a stadium deck that read: “We Want Vladdy.”
There’s also a buzz in Buffalo, where the Bisons are counting on Guerrero providing a boost in production and promotion.
The announced attendance was 9,477, which nearly doubled the Bisons’ average of 5,400 for Tuesday games this season — not including their annual Independence Day eve promotional night.
The Bisons broke tradition and opened the stadium gates three hours before game time to allow fans to watch batting practice. About 150 were on hand when Guerrero stepped to the plate.
Dan Lillis made the two-hour drive from Toronto and plans to attend the final four games of Buffalo’s homestand.
“Most of us think the season’s pretty much over and they’d like to see him as soon as possible coming up,” said Lillis, who attends about 30 Blue Jays games a year. “I think he’s the future.”
Guerrero isn’t looking beyond Buffalo.
“I can’t think in the future. I think in the moment,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure. I just try to get better every day.”
Guerrero doesn’t expect his father to see him play in Buffalo because of various commitments with the Los Angeles Angels.
His grandmother, Altagracia Alvino, will continue living with Guerrero as she did in New Hampshire.
He flashed a toothy smile when asked about his grandmother, who cooks for him and does his laundry — “She doesn’t allow me to do it,” he said.
“If I move to China, she comes with me to China,” Guerrero said. “I always get advice from her. She’s there to support me.”
AP freelance writer Michael Wagaman, in Oakland, California, contributed to this report.
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