It was the best of shapes, it was the worst of shapes.
Hope springs eternal this time of year, and stories of players showing up to camp in the best shape of their lives are plentiful. Even so, the revelation that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. shed 42 pounds from last summer to now has raised even the most cynical of eyebrows.
"For the last couple years, they knew I was coming here out of shape. I didn't prepare myself very well," Guerrero Jr. said through a team interpreter. "I felt like, at that moment, my teammates needed an apology from me. I just talked to them for a while, and the good thing about that is that they accepted my apology. Right then, they talked to me, they motivated me. You know what? It's in the past. Let's start over again and start getting ready."
That dedication to getting in better shape – not just for the sake of being more svelte, but to be more flexible and agile as a hitter and fielder – is intriguing to Blue Jays fans and fantasy players alike, and for good reason. Though the past two seasons have been relatively underwhelming compared to the expectations generated by the hype surrounding him as a prospect, the talent is still upper-echelon and could shine through even more with a renewed commitment to health.
In 183 major league games since the 2019 season, Vladito owns a .269/.336/.442 line with 24 homers, 102 RBI and 86 runs. It's a serviceable line over slightly more than a full season's worth of games, but not what was hoped for when he received a promotion to the bigs 41 days after his 20th birthday.
Even in that good-not-great showing there's been promise for more, though. Guerrero Jr. posted the single highest maximum exit velocity on a ball hit during the 2019 season, 118.9 mph, and last year he had the third-hardest hit ball at 116.1 mph. MaxEV isn't everything, of course, but it serves to remind us just how talented he is with a bat in his hands.
Projection systems, not swayed by things like anecdotes and hyperbole, were already optimistic, envisioning an average close to .300 with 30 homers, 100 RBI and 90 runs scored all within reach in his age-22 season. In our recent staff mock draft, he went ahead of guys like Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow and fellow first baseman Luke Voit. (No more free intel; if you want to see the whole draft, and where he went in it, you'll need to be a NBC Sports EDGE Draft Guide subscriber.)
It's all projection right now, so the dramatic body change doesn't mean anything until we see some results on the field. At a time of the year when hopes are highest for everyone, though, few are easier to dream on than Vladito following his recent transformation.
Editor’s Note: Get an edge on draft day with our premium Draft Guide that is packed with rankings, projections, tiers, ADP reports, mock drafts, expert columns and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!
Reigning MVP Abreu out with COVID-19
Lest we become too optimistic and lighthearted about the upcoming baseball season, we were also pulled back to reality with more COVID-19 news this week.
Jose Abreu, reigning American League MVP, is still not in White Sox camp after testing positive for the virus. He will remain away from the team while awaiting clearance in compliance with MLB's intake protocols.
“Other than being frustrated, José feels great,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in the statement Wednesday. “And like the rest of us, [he] is looking forward to when he rejoins the club in the not-too-distant future.”
The timeline for him to report to camp – which, according to new manager Tony La Russa could be as early as today (Friday) or Monday – doesn't sound any alarms, but if we learned anything in 2020 it's that the coronavirus affected players in vastly different ways upon their return. Freddie Freeman, who reportedly had a pretty serious case and went on to be the National League MVP, is the most noteworthy example of a player showing no ill effects, but others, like Yoan Moncada and Austin Meadows, saw their on-field performance suffer even after they were clear of the virus.
As Hahn noted, Abreu is reportedly asymptomatic and said he had a relatively mild case, so perhaps he managed to dodge a bullet. With the calendar still on February for a few more days, if he is able to get into camp soon he should have plenty of time to prepare for Opening Day on April 1.
His positive case is at least something to keep in mind when drafting, though, if as nothing more than a tiebreaker. We've still yet to see how the lasting effects might affect a player over the course of a full 162-game season, and guys like Abreu and Shane Bieber will be interesting players to watch as a result.
Editor’s Note: Drafting is only half the battle! Get an edge on your competition with our Season Tools that are packed with rankings, projections, a trade evaluator, start/sit tools and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!
Bregman dealing with hamstring 'tweak'
Unlike Abreu, Alex Bregman is on the field, but a different – and potentially more troublesome – ailment could spell trouble for the third baseman this year.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said Bregman "tweaked" his hamstring this winter, keeping him off the field during drills in the early days of camp. Bregman took batting practice on the field Thursday but didn't participate in infield drills.
“It’s something that was here last year, and then he tweaked it while he was working out this winter,” Baker said earlier this week. “You know how hard he works. We may have to monitor his work for his own sake, because this guy works. His hamstring is sore. Again. We’re just got to take care of him.”
The red flags here are numerous. First, Bregman missed 17 games during the truncated 2020 campaign due to right hamstring discomfort – the same hamstring that Baker indicated to reporters is bothering him now. It's less than encouraging when the same issue that ailed him last summer is still lingering this spring.
The other concern is that soft-tissue injuries have a higher instance of reoccurrence than broken bones or the like. Even if Bregman does overcome this and have a relatively normal rest of spring, he's not out of the woods with regards to this issue possibly popping up again during the season.
Paired with his struggles in 2020, it's hard to draft him with confidence where he's being taken in drafts this spring – he's got a 37 ADP in Yahoo leagues, and an average ADP of 35 across five different drafting platforms. That's ahead of guys like Corey Seager, Luis Robert and fellow third baseman Rafael Devers, among others.
National League Quick Hits: Cody Bellinger (shoulder) said Wednesday that he'll be "basically a full-go" in workouts next week. He also believes that he's "way ahead of schedule" in his recovery from surgery to repair a dislocated right shoulder, will be able to play in Cactus League games by mid-March and that he'll be "100 percent ready" to play on Opening Day. All good things, but it's still a situation worth monitoring in the coming weeks ... Max Scherzer (ankle) threw 40 pitches off the mound at about 80-85 percent on Wednesday, per Nationals manager Dave Martinez. Martinez added that there were no complaints, no issues, and that Scherzer's ankle didn't bother him at all. Promising, but like with Bregman, starting spring behind is suboptimal, especially so for a 36-year-old Scherzer ... Nationals GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged Tuesday that the team had long-term contract talks with Juan Soto last spring but they "didn't go very far" ... Trevor Story said Tuesday that he hasn't discussed a contract extension with the Rockies. But their last one worked out so well! ... Reds manager David Bell noted Thursday that Nick Senzel will open the 2021 season as the team's everyday center fielder. The skipper did later clarify that Shogo Akiyama will also get some run in center field this year, but the vote of confidence in Senzel was a welcome one for his believers. We're among them ... Kris Bryant said Thursday that he is still open to discussing a contract extension with the Cubs ... Pirates acquired OF Dustin Fowler from the Athletics for cash considerations. There's a decent chance Fowler starts for the Bucs, but his value is limited to NL-only leagues until he shows something, assuming he wins a job ... According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Phillies are "among [the] new teams" to check in on free agent starter Jake Odorizzi ... Cardinals manager Mike Shildt announced Thursday morning that Jack Flaherty will be the team's Opening Day starter on April 1 against the Reds ... Giants signed LHP Scott Kazmir to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Kazmir, who reportedly reached 92-93 mph in his recent showcase, is attempting a comeback.
American League Quick Hits: Shohei Ohtani (elbow) said that he topped out at 97 mph in a live batting practice session Wednesday. Well then ... Mariners OF prospect Jarred Kelenic told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that he is the victim of service time manipulation. What gives him that idea? ... J.D. Martinez said Tuesday that he "wasn’t really prepared for last year." Martinez didn't hit for a couple of months after the COVID-19 shutdown last year and admitted that the uncertainty over whether the season would be played got to him. “It’s my fault. I take accountability for that because I didn’t stay ready,” said Martinez. “And I think this year I said to myself, ‘They’re not getting me again. They’re not catching me off guard.’ So I stayed ready the whole time.” The accountability is interesting after he'd previously blamed a lot of his struggles on the lack of in-game video, and it shows a self-awareness that suggests 2021 won't be a repeat of 2020 ... Yordan Alvarez (knees) stretched and ran on the field Thursday in Astros camp. It was his first on-field workout of the spring, by all accounts. Alvarez's status is a bit iffy at the moment after he required dual knee surgeries last summer, though this could be a case of the Astros simply playing things safe in the early part of spring training. If healthy, he could be a monster at the plate this year ... White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Yoan Moncada (arm) could play third base in a Cactus League game as early as Sunday or Monday ... Frankie Montas (COVID-19) was cleared to join A's camp on Thursday morning. That's great news, though the same caveats that apply to Abreu and Bieber also apply to Montas. It'll be worth paying attention to how he's progressing in spring ... Rays manager Kevin Cash stated Wednesday that Brandon Lowe could see time at third base during spring training in order to allow for more flexibility with in-game moves ... Athletics manager Bob Melvin suggested Thursday that Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha could be candidates for the leadoff spot. Take note, drafters ... Tigers INF prospect Spencer Torkelson cut his right index finger on a "make-shift" can opener. The cut did require stitches, but fortunately, it shouldn't have any long-term effects for the first-overall pick of last year's draft and one of the best hitting prospects in baseball ... Blue Jays signed LHP Tommy Milone to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training ... Twins SS prospect Royce Lewis has been diagnosed with an ACL tear in his right knee. The 21-year-old top shortstop prospect is scheduled to fly back to the Twin Cities to undergo reconstructive surgery on Friday and will likely be sidelined for the next 9-12 months – so all of the 2021 season.