By John Perrotto
Vladimir Guerrero walked away from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season vowing to report to spring training in better shape in 2021.
The Toronto Blue Jays first baseman lived up to his promise. Guerrero was hardly recognizable when he walked into the clubhouse at Dunedin, Fla., for the first day of camp.
Guerrero reported 42 pounds follow an offseason of aggressive conditioning and better eating.
“I came to spring training out of shape for a couple of years,” Guerrero said upon arriving in Dunedin. “One day at my house in the Dominican I just sat down and thought about all this. I decided right then that I was going to get ready, I was going to prepare myself, I was going to work very hard for this year. I did, because my main focus is just to be ready and help the team win.”
The Blue Jays got a taste of winning last season when they went 32-28 and made the expanded playoff field. Though the Blue Jays got swept in the wild card round, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2016 made them believing better days are soon ahead.
A big reason for that belief is the talented Guerrero, one of a number of talented youngster in a lineup that also includes shortstop Bo Bichette and second baseman Cavan Biggio among others. Many scouts and executives believe the 22-year-old Guerrero has only scratched the surface of his full potential.
Guerrero arrived in the major leagues on April 26, 2019 to great fanfare. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com all ranked him as the top prospect in the game going into that season.
Rogers SportsNet televised his first batting practice session live throughout Canada before the Blue Jays played the Oakland Athletics that night at Rogers Centre. Guerrero only added to the hype by arriving at the ballpark wearing a Montreal Expos’ No. 27 jersey that his father sported during his Hall of Fame career.
Guerrero hit .272 with 15 home runs in 123 games a rookie while playing third base. He was moved across the diamond last season and wound up playing in all 60 games, posting a .262 batting average with nine homers.
Guerrero and the Blue Jays believe his statistics will get bigger in proportion to his waistline getting smaller. After all, the organization has felt the right-handed hitter has the makings of a superstar since signing him as a 16-year-old amateur from the Dominican Republic in 2015.
John Perrotto, a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, has covered Major League Baseball since 1988. He is a Hall of Fame voter and has written for such publications as USA Today, Baseball Digest and Baseball America. You can follow him on Twitter @JPerrotto.