It was inevitable. Charlie Montoyo’s first public Winter Meetings press conference as the new Toronto Blue Jays manager contained plenty of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. questions. One after another, they flowed after Montoyo’s relationship with Vladimir Guerrero Sr. emerged from the crop of coffee-infused reporters. Each attempted to elicit some nugget about the prized prospects from the former Durham Bulls manager (2007-2014).
“From what I hear, the moment he gets there, he could be one of the best players in baseball,” Montoyo said. “I know sometimes that doesn't translate to the big leagues. But what they say about him, he's going to translate and be one of the best players.”
If Montoyo’s definition of “best players in baseball” includes position players projected to have a higher WAR than Nolan Arenado or Buster Posey, then Steamer’s early 2019 numbers agree. Guerrero Jr. is locked in for 20-plus homers and an average north of .300, something the Blue Jays will need 100 percent of to compete in the AL east. But Guerrero Jr.’s development is more important than his rookie-season numbers.
Supporting Montoyo are a crop of three new coaches: Dave Hudgens, John Schneider, and Mark Budzinski. Schneider, the former New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A) manager, is directly tied to Guerrero Jr.’s development. He spent 61 games with the phenom in 2018, but joins Montoyo as a major league coach with an emphasis on developing catchers. His relationship in the Blue Jays clubhouse will be a familiar face for the man-child casually called “Vlady Jr..”
Montoyo intends to rely on his staff heavily throughout the 2019 season given his comments and tone in the Tuesday press conference. His attention may also turn to the minor leagues and Triple-A manager Bobby Meacham.
“If Vlady doesn't make the club and he's in Triple-A, I'm going to be talking to [Meacham] all the time,” Montoyo said. “Whenever he tells me he's ready to go, he’s ready to go, cause he’s going to see him every day and he's going to have a good feel when that kid is ready to be in the big leagues.”
Montoyo’s own interactions have also given him perspective on Guerrero Jr.’s personality. He traveled to Phoenix during the Arizona Fall League months ago and spoke to Guerrero Jr., describing him as humble and “just like his dad.” His initial interactions with the 19-year-old came two years ago when Vlady came to Toronto to take batting practice before his breakout occurred. Other than historical details, specifics were largely omitted from Montoyo’s press conference.
“If he is what I think it is, he'll be in the top of the lineup,” Montoyo said. “But, again, it's going to be a talk, we're going to talk with the minor league people and the coaching staff [about] where we're going to hit him in the lineup.”
Montoyo also mentioned the pressure on Guerrero Jr. as he bears the hopes of Canada’s baseball team on his shoulders with Fisher Cats teammates Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, among others. At some point in 2019, barring injury, the prize of the Blue Jays 2015 J2 signing class will arrive. The bilingual Montoyo will be managing Guerrero Jr. in his first taste of the major leagues. There isn’t a better fit to ease Vlady Jr. into his everyday role.