Remember back in the spring when “load management” was a hot topic in Toronto sports and Vlad Guerrero Jr. found himself in his own version of it?
First, there was the adjusted fighting weight of the rookie, as the team changed the reported number from 200 pounds to a more realistic 250.
Eyebrows were raised.
Then Vlad Jr. ripped an oblique muscle with one of his mighty swings early in Grapefruit League play, an injury that would ultimately delay the start of his rookie major-league campaign.
Of course, that led to all sorts of hot takes about Guerrero’s conditioning, his ability to play a full season and, naturally, to questions about how the Jays were going to handle it all.
It got silly, as these things do. But given that the team crafted clearly defined goals of helping a still-developing body prepare, adapt and perform through the grind of a first taste of the big leagues, it has gone extremely well for the 20-year-old.
It’s still a work in progress — as it would be for any young player — but Guerrero is playing his best baseball late in the season, he hasn’t been injured and, as he told us this past weekend, is driven for a strong finish through the final seven weeks of the schedule.
In the Jays’ front office, the emphasis is to continue to maximize his performance and skills, both in the present and future. The next step will be to devise a plan for the off-season to mix rest and recovery with continued development and improved fitness.
“There’s a plan Vlad is working on today and that factors in playing time as well as the baseball goals he’s working on,” Jays assistant general manager Joe Sheehan said on Thursday as the players enjoyed their first off-day of August. “There’s going to be a plan that he will continue to work on after Sept. 30.
“In the off-season, we don’t have to account for fatigue from playing, so the plan adjusts accordingly. Vlad is involved in developing and implementing that plan.”
The latter two points are important ones.
Bluntly, would the Jays prefer that Guerrero was in better shape? Sure.
But it is a delicate topic and balance as the strapping son of a Hall of Famer puts in the work to become more skilled while also staying healthy.
He’s doing all that at his sport’s highest level while also shouldering the heaviest workload of his career. A typical work day for Guerrero and most of his young contemporaries includes infield drills and plenty of time in the batting cage. Then all of that is followed by a game at night.
With that kind of volume, the Jays have rightfully been careful not to overdo it with any of their players and have closely monitored so many aspects of their work.
Given the sensitive nature of fitness in general and allowing for some needed downtime, the Jays want to make sure Guerrero has some say in how he proceeds.
As Sheehan notes, fatigue is a potential factor. So far in 2019, Guerrero has had 397 at-bats (342 with the Jays and 45 in the minors). With 38 games remaining, Vlad Jr. should easily surpass the 437 at-bats he had at single-A Lansing and single-A Dunedin in 2017 as the most in his pro career.
Load management, Vladdy version, has consisted of the occasional day off, including the regrettable Victoria Day home date that left a mark with fans. Manager Charlie Montoyo will liberally throw in a designated-hitter day here and there to provide further breaks.
Rest is important on many levels, as the grinding, recently completed 20-games-in-20-days stretch illustrated for the team.
If performance is an indicator in Guerrero’s case, then the way he has been managed has played well thus far. As he’s made adjustments to better counter big-league pitching, Guerrero has enjoyed his best production in his most recent stretch.
Heading into the off-day, Guerrero led American League rookies in hits (93), doubles (22) and extra-base hits (36.) He’s hitting for power and average and utilizes his sublime hand speed and coordination to battle some of the best pitchers in the game.
The motivation for both Vlad and management is to ride that momentum, finish the schedule strong and develop an off-season regimen that works for both. Unlike last year, it isn’t expected to include a trip to the Arizona Fall League, but at this point, plans are to be determined.
The way in which the fall and winter plays out will be a crucial next step for Guerrero, however. He’s got a good enough arm to play third base and his footwork continues to improve. Continuing to work on fitness will be stressed — and rest assured, the team would like to see much of it happen at their Dunedin winter base.
It doesn’t stop with No. 27, Sheehan is quick to point out. Just as Guerrero’s movements are closely monitored, so are those of fellow rookies Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio and the host of young prospects throughout the system.
While youth is being served and the energy the young Jays have brought is contagious, the process is just beginning.
“Other players have similar plans (to Guerrero’s) with their own developmental goals,” Sheehan said. “And those plans are coordinated in the same way, with the player and coaches working together.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019