Vladimir Guerrero Jr. delivered one of the better lines of spring training last year when he proclaimed that the Blue Jays’ 2021 season was the trailer and the 2022 campaign would be the movie.
It turned out to be a shorter film than he had hoped. Toronto’s postseason run lasted at least two games.
There were no such proclamations on Friday when Guerrero held his first formal media availability this spring.
“This year I’m not going to say anything,” he said with a smile via interpreter Hector Lebron. “You guys have to watch.”
The young slugger hit 32 homers, drove in 97 runs and batted .274 in 2022 — a career season for many players. But after a second-place finish in the MVP race, there was a slight decline in production.
Guerrero admitted he put a lot of pressure on himself and was a little anxious at times in the batter’s box.
Mental preparation, pitch selection key
Blue Jays manager John Schneider said teams were “pretty consistent” in how they tried to attack him, including trying to get him to chase pitches out of the zone.
“Like any young player, there will be an adjustment and then a readjustment based on what the league does,” he said. “So I think that’s the main part of it is really swinging at the right pitches.”
Mental preparation and pitch selection will be key, Guerrero said.
“As a ballplayer, you want to get better every year,” he said. “You know the numbers I put up in ’21. Last spring training I came here and tried to (produce) even better numbers. I think that affected me a little bit.
“But this year I’m going to come up with a plan. I’m just going to trust my talent and I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully everything will go well.”
Like Father, Like Son 💙 #POSTER pic.twitter.com/29EfY71R1i
Schneider said it’s common for many hitters to see ebbs and flows with their swing mechanics over the course of a season.
“There were times where he probably closed up a little bit and opened up a little too early,” he said. “You couple that with where the pitches were actually thrown, I think that’s what we saw.”
Anchor of powerful lineup
Guerrero will help anchor a batting order with plenty of pop. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins also made some moves to strengthen the team’s defense and provide more left-handed bats.
The outfield has a new look with George Springer moving from center to right. Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., were sent out and replaced by Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho.
“I think to understand that the way our lineup is going to be balanced, it doesn’t always have to be him getting the big hit,” Schneider said of Guerrero. “It could be him picking up a guy or it could be him drawing a walk.
The Blue Jays also added some arms to the bullpen in the off-season and Chris Bassitt was signed to shore up a rotation that lost Ross Stripling to free agency.
A solid young core — anchored by Guerrero, shortstop Bo Bichette and ace Alek Manoah — will be counted on to help Toronto take the next step after wild-card exits in two of the last three years.
The Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League schedule begins Feb. 25 against Pittsburgh. The regular season starts March 30 at St. Louis.
The Seattle Mariners swept Toronto last fall, two years after the Blue Jays were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card series.
The Blue Jays’ last postseason victory came in 2016 when the club reached the American League Championship Series for the second straight year. Toronto last won the World Series in 1993.
Canada’s Thompson reflects on World Series run
Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson has had a few months to reflect on the team’s long postseason run last fall.
The Canadian took over as skipper in June when the Phillies were 22-29. He helped turn things around and led the Phillies all the way to the World Series, where they dropped a six-game series to the Houston Astros.
After the dust settled, Thomson said his brother asked him how it really felt to make it in the Fall Classic.
“I said before the game and after the game, it felt like the World Series because it was just all the media and all the things you have to do,” Thomson said at a Grapefruit League availability for managers and GMs at the Blue Jays’ spring complex.
“But during the game, I don’t know why, I could just lock in and it was just like any other game. We went through our normal process and I think the players did the same.”
Thomson, originally from Sarnia, Ont., grew up in nearby Corunna, Ont.
He became the first Canadian to serve as a manager in the World Series since 1887, when Bill Watkins of Brantford, Ont., led the Detroit Wolverines to victory over the St. Louis Browns.
Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White are the favorites to land the No. 5 starting role with the Blue Jays this spring, but prospect Ricky Tiedemann also presents an intriguing option for the team’s brass.
The 20-year-old left-hander was 5-4 with a 2.17 earned run average in the minor leagues last season. The six-foot-four, 220-pounder is the team’s top prospect and is ranked No. 32 on the MLB roster.
The Ricky Tiedemann 2023 Rookie of the Year campaign starts now pic.twitter.com/oOpYKxkvq7
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said he doesn’t think the club needs to temper his expectations at all, but rather let him focus on the process.
“He’s as focused on it as any young player I’ve been around,” Atkins said.
Tiedemann, a native of Long Beach, Calif., was selected by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2021 draft.
Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk is late to camp as his fiancee could give birth at any time in the coming days.
The couple announced the baby news on Instagram last August, posing at home plate at the Rogers Center and holding up a tiny red jersey with Kirk’s No. 30 on the back.
Blue Jays manager John Schneider has been providing updates at the end of his media availability for the past few days.
“Still on babysitting,” he said Friday afternoon. “I thought it was supposed to be yesterday, but my last update this morning was ‘Not quite yet.’
“Hopefully soon,” he added with a smile.
Kirk, a resident of Tijuana, will represent Mexico at next month’s World Baseball Classic.