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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is finally in the majors, where he belongs

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The long awaited arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the major leagues has finally come, with the Blue Jays star and son of a Hall of Famer making his big league debut for Toronto on Friday night.

Still just a month after turning 20 years old, Guerrero played third base and batted fifth for Toronto against the A’s. He was 1-for-4, with his ninth-inning double the rally starter in the Blue Jays’ walk-off win.

The consensus top prospect in baseball, Guerrero was very likely ready to test his mettle against major league competition and some point in 2018, but was kept in the minor leagues thanks to a systemic incentive to manipulate service time.

“Our vision, it really comes down to development,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told MLB Network Radio in February. “I just don’t see him as a major league player.”

Just 25 games into the season, all of a sudden Guerrero is a major league player. How convenient the timing.

Vlad Jr. 2019 projections

System BA OPS HR
System BA OPS HR
Steamer .307 .891 19
PECOTA .268 .797 20
Bill James .310 .939 34
ZiPS .288 .838 19

It was painfully obvious that Guerrero was going to be held down on the farm to start 2019 as well, at least until April 12. That’s the date after which there isn’t enough time left in the season to accrue the necessary 172 days for a full year of service time. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, players don’t qualify for free agency until they reach six years of service time. By gaming the system and waiting a few weeks, a potential star-type can effectively be in the majors for seven years instead of six before reaching the free market. For Guerrero, that means not reaching free agency until after the 2025 season instead of 2024.

It happened to Kris Bryant in 2015 with the Cubs, and again with Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2018 with the Braves. It would have happened with Guerrero this year too but an oblique injury during spring training took that decision out of the Blue Jays’ hands.

This trend might be corrected with the next CBA, but the current agreement runs through 2021. So for now we are stuck with a flawed system that rewards major league teams for not fielding their best rosters.

Major League Baseball has been running ads this season pleading to “Let the kids play,” yet until players like Guerrero, Acuña, Bryant and others are not artificially shackled, those words ring hollow.

Father & son

In eight games in Buffalo this season, Guerrero was 11-for-30 with three home runs, hitting .367/.424/.700. It’s par for the course for the hitting savant, who hit .343/.416/.593 in 38 games at Triple-A and hit .331/.413/.531 overall in his four minor league seasons.

The bat is what sets Guerrero apart, and the hype surrounding his arrival in the majors has grown to the point where even his batting practices are must watch, even before his very first major league game.

Guerrero was called up on Friday, with infielder Richard Ureña optioned to Triple-A Buffalo to make room on the active roster as well as set Urena up as the answer to a trivia question decades from now. Guerrero wears No. 27, just like his father, who hit .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs in a spectacular 16-year career that saw him make nine All-Star teams and win an MVP.

Vlad Sr. was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018. Vlad Jr. entered the stadium in Toronto on Friday wearing his dad’s old Expos jersey.

The elder Guerrero batted sixth in his major league debut, back on Sept. 19, 1996, going 1-for-5 against the Braves.