Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has about as much hype as any prospect has had in quite some time. He hasn’t quite had his breakout campaign, but many are tabbing 2021 to be the magical year for the young slugger. Through his first 183 games at the big league level, he’s hit 24 home runs, drove in 102 runs and posted a respectable .269/.336/.442 slash line. I remember writing Guerrero’s player profile last year and the same thing applies to him heading into 2021. Much of his batted ball metrics and peripherals are fine, but there’s one glaring statistic that is holding Guerrero back and that is his launch angle.
It seems like Guerrero’s batted ball profile took two steps forward but one step back last year. Compared to 2019, he improved across the board with increases in his average exit velocity, hard contact rate and barrel rate. However, his already low launch angle of 6.7 degrees in 2019 dropped to 4.6 degrees in 2020. Yikes. His exit velocity was in the top seven percent of the league, but his launch angle was atrocious.
Think about it this way. In 2020, he made hard contact like Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuna, but with a ball direction of David Fletcher or César Hernández . He makes such hard contact that he just needs to loft the ball more frequently. He had the 12th highest exit velocity in all of baseball in 2020, and his average exit velocity on ground balls was the highest in the league. Guerrero makes hard contact what seems like every time he hits the ball, but you wouldn’t know it, because loud contact on ground balls doesn’t get anyone excited. His launch angle ranked 133rd out of 142 qualified hitters last year. Yikes.
He cut into his strikeout rate a bit, and kept his walk rate in the same ballpark. When you look at his rolling strikeout rate below, it was far more inconsistent than the year prior. After some reports about not taking conditioning seriously and being out of shape after the restart, I think some of that is in play here.
If you are on Twitter, you’ll have seen some pictures of Guerrero and he’s looking in far better shape than he has in recent seasons. Of course, we can only buy so much into the “best shape of his life” narrative, but focusing on his conditioning and body should help him not only in the field, but at the dish as well.
Honestly, when it comes to Guerrero, the launch angle issue is the beginning, middle and end of discussion in terms of his fantasy potential. If he trades ground balls for some fly balls, his batted ball profile screams monster power numbers. Everything is going for him, except the fact that he’s posted back-to-back seasons of 50 percent ground ball rates. Guerrero makes loud, hard contact, but every other ball is beaten into God’s green Earth. Sure, the other one may be a gargantuan round tripper that sends a ball into orbit and a shockwave into our galaxy, but ground ball singles hit at 109 miles per hour are exciting for about half of a second.
Guerrero’s good discipline at the dish should keep his peripherals at respectable levels. Drafting Guerrero gives you around a .290 average with upside to get to .300, and an on-base percentage in the mid-.360s. Now, the money is made with his power numbers. He’s projected as low as 26 home runs by ATC and THE BAT, but upwards of 32 by THE BAT X. With his massive exit velocity, if he really goes to the moon with launch angle, he might hit 40! Personally, I think Guerrero is going to hit anywhere from 30-34 home runs this year.
With a stacked lineup around him featuring Cavan Biggio , Bo Bichette , George Springer , Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernández , Guerrero should be able to easily attain 80+ runs and 85+ RBI. If everything goes right for Toronto and Guerrero this year, he just might hit .300 with 35 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI. Prospect junkies have been waiting on this for years!
He’s currently the fifth first baseman off the board, per NFBC data, and the earlier you push up in drafts, the more confident you are in Guerrero circling the bases with great regularity in 2021.
ATC Projections by Ariel Cohen
THE BAT/THE BAT X Projections by Derek Carty