Can Vlad Guerrero Jr. Challenge Mike Trout's Greatest-Ever MLB Rookie Throne?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2019

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 06:  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Dunedin Stadium on March 06, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In MLB, as in all sports, there are hyped rookies, and then there are Hyped Rookies. Capital "H," capital "R."

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. falls squarely into the latter category.

He's the son of a Hall of Famer. He's raked at every minor league level while soaring through the Toronto Blue Jays system as though his cleats were laced with jet fuel.

He's now set to touch down in The Show on Friday.

"It's a big moment for us," Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters. "Hopefully, he becomes what everybody thinks he's going to become."

The expectations are sky-high, but let's ratchet them into the stratosphere with the following question: Can Guerrero challenge Mike Trout's all-time-best rookie season?

First, the context. After a 40-game debut in 2011 that left his rookie status intact, Trout tore the American League apart in 2012. He hit .326 with 30 home runs and a .963 OPS and posted 10.1 WAR by FanGraphs' calculation, the highest total by any rookie in history. (Note, linked totals include pre-rookie-limit tabulations.)

He's blazing into the all-time WAR leaderboard and may eventualy top it.

Trout has since gone on to win a litany of awards, including a pair of MVPs. He's undeniably the best player in baseball right now. When he's done, he could be in the conversation for the greatest of all time. 

Guerrero is all pedigree, promise and minor league stats. But those stats sure do stoke the imagination.

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 06:  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Dunedin Stadium on March 06, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reav
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In 288 games between the rookie leagues and Triple-A, Guerrero has slashed .331/.413/.531. After battling an oblique injury this spring that conveniently allowed the Jays to keep him down in the minors and delay his service-time clock, he went back to mashing at Triple-A Buffalo with a .367 average and 1.124 OPS in 33 plate appearances. 

Guerrero is set to make his MLB debut on April 26. In his rookie season, Trout debuted on April 28. Trout was 20. Guerrero is 20. The parallels are obvious.

Can we expect similar greatness from Guerrero? 

The power is there, raw and undeniable. Watch and tell us if this baseball ever landed:

But Guerrero is more than a big bopper. He posted a .413 on-base percentage during his MiLB career, which suggests a discerning eye. He also boasts the ability to spray the ball to all fields, as his Double-A New Hampshire manager John Schneider explained in May 2018, via Baseball America's Ben Badler:

"He never gets pull happy. If you watch his BP, it's very meticulous, starting [opposite field] and working his way back to the middle. He just hits it where it's pitched. He knows he can leave right field, center field, left field. So he doesn't try to get out of his approach. He doesn't try to change his swing to try to yank one. Not everyone has that luxury to just hit it where it's pitched."

OK, now for the wet blankets, at least when it comes to the (possibly unfair) Trout comparison.

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 06:  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Dunedin Stadium on March 06, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reav
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

First, Trout was and is a gifted defensive center fielder. Guerrero has a strong arm and is emerging defensively as a third baseman, but he doesn't measure up to Trout's prowess at a premium position.

In addition to his power and high average, Trout also stole an MLB-high 49 bases in his rookie season. Guerrero has stolen 27 in his 288 minor league games.

In other words: To match or surpass Trout's rookie-season WAR, Guerrero will have hit the cover off the ball from the word "go." 

He has it in him. The legacy is there. The capital "H" hype is there. The pure hitting skills are there.

Now it's time to pop our popcorn and watch what happens.

   

All statistics current entering play Friday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

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