Vladdy Fever: Top-ranked prospect set for much-anticipated Blue Jays debut

TORONTO — It's rare for a late April baseball game to have an electric buzz with a you've-got-to-be-there feeling.

Welcome to the Vladdy Show, Blue Jays fans.

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Major League Baseball's top prospect will make his long-awaited debut Friday night at the Rogers Centre as Toronto takes on the Oakland Athletics.

It has been almost four years since then-general manager Alex Anthopoulos signed Guerrero as a 16-year-old for US$3.9 million. The youngster went on to tear through the minor leagues to add even more weight to his can't-miss status.

Toronto fans have been salivating for the last year, anxiously awaiting word on when the Blue Jays would make their move. They got their answer Wednesday evening when the team announced his promotion, creating an unmitigated ray of sunshine for a club immersed in a deep rebuild.

The hype machine found another gear once confirmation arrived. Social media went into overdrive and radio shows devoted hours to the subject.

The MLB Network added the game to its schedule and later unveiled a 3 1/2-minute video — complete with Drake soundtrack — featuring the young slugger.

The Blue Jays also posted video of Guerrero's arrival at the Rogers Centre on Thursday.

Guerrero's smiling face was on the cover of the Toronto Star on Thursday beside a headline that read: "Future is Now." The Toronto Sun went with "At Last" in big block letters on the front of its sports section.

Home attendance has been sluggish for the 11-14 team this season but a solid crowd was expected for Guerrero's debut. Gates will open earlier than usual so fans can watch batting practice.

"We're hopeful that Vlad is going to make a lasting impact on the team and that his presence is going to help create special memories for fans at Rogers Centre," said Andrew Miller, the team's executive vice-president of business operations. "So it's been an exciting 24 hours."

His callup was also good timing for a city fanbase looking to move on from the NHL's Maple Leafs' first-round playoff exit and with time to kill before the NBA's Raptors begin second-round play on Saturday night.

Guerrero suffered an oblique injury last month in spring training and impressed upon his return, posting a .367 batting average during a two-week run with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

"He doesn't swing at many pitches and he makes pitchers work," Bisons broadcaster Pat Malacaro said from Syracuse, N.Y. "Usually, it's the pitcher working over the batter. In Vladdy's case, it's the batter working over the pitcher."

Guerrero played at four minor-league levels last year, spending most of the season at double-A New Hampshire. He feasted at the plate, posting a .381 overall batting average and a 1.073 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

He hit .336 with a .978 OPS in 30 games with the Bisons in 2018. Guerrero had three homers and eight RBIs in eight triple-A games this spring.

"A lot of guys were in awe," Malacaro said. "Last year, we saw that guys didn't want to challenge him at the plate. They didn't want to throw him good pitches because they didn't want to be the guy who gave up a 500-foot home run to Vladdy. This year, the opposing teams challenged him and we saw it three times."

The MLB Network video included a clip of Guerrero going deep in a pre-season game last year in Montreal, where his father was a star with the Expos during his Hall of Fame career.

Former Blue Jays great Joe Carter narrated the piece, and noted that Guerrero often creates a unique sound when his bat connects with the ball.

"Vladimir Guerrero Junior is one of those gifted noisemakers," Carter said in the video. "A one-man percussion band in spikes. Just 20 years old, he ranks with Ken Griffey Junior, Alex Rodriguez and Bryce Harper, among the most anticipated rookie hitters in the past four decades."

No pressure, kid.

There will be growing pains along the way. Guerrero, who turned 20 last month, has strides to make with his defensive play at third base and his speed could be improved.

But he appears to have all the makings of a generational talent in the batter's box. In a homer-friendly stadium like the Rogers Centre, Guerrero could do some serious damage.

"It's the plate discipline, it's the IQ at the plate," Malacaro said. "It's something that I think separates him from most players. That's something you either have or you don't."

Guerrero will be formally introduced Friday afternoon at a news conference with GM Ross Atkins.

In the evening, it will be showtime.

"Just sit back and enjoy," Malacaro said. "You don't get many talents this good within your organization. You just have to enjoy how special this moment is really going to be."

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