Blue Jays bench coach Dave Hudgens saw Houston Astros star Alex Bregman rise out of a slump in his rookie year through self-confidence and a bump up in the lineup.
Hudgens was the Astros’ hitting coach when Bregman started his career 0-for-18 in 2016. After 10 games, he had two hits and was batting .053. Three years later another phenom, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is hitting just .162 through the first 10 games of his major-league career.
Hudgens doesn’t feel there are any notable comparisons between the two young superstars, outside of the low numbers and the high confidence levels.
And it’s the latter that matters most, Hudgens feels.
“No question, Alex had it …” Hudgens said. “He came to me in the cage one day after he was, like, 0-for-27, and he said, ‘I’m going to hit .300.’ I said, ‘Yeah, some day you’re gonna hit .300, no doubt about it.’ He said, ‘No, I’m gonna hit .300 this year.’ He came close, he hit .270 or .280 (actually .264 over 49 games), hurt a hamstring … and that’s the kind of confidence you need. He kept working, working every day, and he came out of it, and that’s what Vlad’s doing.”
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Hudgens also noted that Bregman started hitting as he was moved up in the batting order, from sixth and seventh to the No. 2 hole. There are no such bumps expected for the 20-year-old Guerrero, who has batted as high as third and as low as fifth in the order.
Nothing has seemed to provide that spark so far, that one hot game that everyone suspects is about to surface. The kid who destroyed minor-league pitching has no homers, one RBI, and 11 strikeouts in 37 at-bats. Guerrero never struck out with such regularity in the minors, where he averaged one every 24 at-bats.
“Well, not everybody is like him,” Hudgens said, “because he’s come with a lot of publicity and a lot of stuff going on around him, he’s Vladimir Guerrero’s son, the No. 1 one prospect in baseball, they’re game-planning for him from day one … pitchers, they game plan a bit for other young players, but not like they do for Vlad … They’re pitching him like they did to Mike Trout, Manny Ramirez. Vlad’s been pitched really tough, so he just has to be patient, his at-bats have been good to me, he’s not come out of the zone much, he’s trying to get his pitch. He just hasn’t got to many of them, but once he starts seeing some of them more, he’ll be fine.”
It’s not a surprise that Guerrero is facing an uphill climb to meet all the hype that followed him for two years as baseball’s No. 1 prospect. Few at Guerrero’s age have had a big impact in the majors. According to research done by CBS Sports, only seven players aged 20 have produced a WAR of 4.0 or higher over the past 24 seasons — Alex Rodriguez in 1996, Jason Heyward in 2010, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in 2012, Manny Machado in 2013, Carlos Correa in 2015, and Ronald Acuna last season.
The Jays think it’s a matter of time for Guerrero. They’re not going to alter his swing, though there might be adjustments. He appeared to be getting more lift on the ball in batting practice Wednesday than he had in previous sessions.
“There’s probably a little bit of self stress added on there,” Jays pitcher Clay Buchholz said. “(Guerrero) probably never hit .150 in his life, anywhere. I told him in the dugout the other day — he struck out in Anaheim, and he’s frustrated but I said — ‘Hey bro, don’t get out of sorts, don’t get upset, the pitchers are gonna start missing.’ And they’ll start missing in the zone, when he’s looking for a fastball.
“But it’s such a small sample size right now for anyone to judge him on. I don’t see him needing too much longer to break out.”
Mark Zwolinski is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol
Published at Thu, 09 May 2019 23:13:58 +0000