Rick Zamperin: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ready, but are the Blue Jays?

Spring Training has officially arrived in Dunedin, Florida, where Toronto Blue Jays’ pitchers and catchers have assembled once again.

But most of the chatter on day one at Dunedin Stadium revolved around a player who hasn’t even reported to camp yet.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 19-year-old phenom who is considered by many as the top prospect in baseball, is the one player that almost everyone is focused one.

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And why wouldn’t we be? The son of Hall of Fame slugger Vladimir Guerrero has torn the cover off the ball at every stop during his trip through the minor leagues.

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In 95 games with four teams in 2018, from rookie ball to Triple A, Guerrero batted a combined .381 with a .636 Slugging Percentage and an On Base-Slugging Percentage (OPS) of 1.073. The right-handed batter also slugged 20 home runs and drove in 78 runs.

In all levels of minor league baseball since 2016 (321 games), Vlad Jr.’s stats are gawdy. A .323 average, 41 homers, 223 RBI’s, 30 stolen bases, and a .909 OPS.

WATCH: Montoyo says he’s excited to coach Vlad Jr.

Click to play video 'Montoyo says he’s excited to coach Vlad Jr.' Montoyo says he’s excited to coach Vlad Jr.
Montoyo says he’s excited to coach Vlad Jr.

However, when asked if Guerrero would start the 2019 season in the major leagues with Toronto, Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters on Thursday that “there’s no firm timeline” for his debut.

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Part of that is due to the fact that the Blue Jays don’t want to burn a year off his free agency eligibility by having him play on a team that has no hope of challenging for a playoff spot this season. Keeping him in the minors for the bulk of the season means he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2025, instead of 2024.

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Another reason why the Jays will likely keep Vlady in the minors this year will be to work on his defensive skills. There’s no question the Montreal-born Guerrero can hit a baseball with the best of them, but can he handle the stress of playing the field every day at a very high level?

I understand the business side of this equation and the need for Guerrero to grow as a fielder, but as a fan, I’d love to see him step into the batter’s box on opening day when the Blue Jays host the Detroit Tigers on March 28.