By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the most feared hitters in the MLB, and for good reason. The 23-year-old hit 32 home runs in 706 plate appearances in 2022, and 48 in 2021.
Just like his father, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is able to hit balls out of the strike zone hard, and pitches in the strike zone even harder, with an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph. The phenom will play at this year’s World Baseball Classic for his, and his father’s, home country, the Dominican Republic.
The D.R. will begin the World Baseball Classic with the second-best odds to win the tournament, trailing only Team USA. Guerrero Jr. will be joined by fellow MLB superstars Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Eloy Jimenez. And that’s only the outfield.
Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Wander Franco, and Willy Adames will man the infield. With a stacked D.R. lineup, it will only become harder to pitch around Guerrero Jr. In 2022, his base-on-balls percentage was 8.2%, down from 12.3% in 2021. That number could easily rise in the WBC if first base is open with a couple outs on the board.
This will be the first time Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will play in the World Baseball Classic. The last time the tournament was held in 2017, he was just 18 years old playing in Single-A for the Lansing Lugnuts. However, this will not be the first time he plays baseball for a Dominican Republic team. Guerrero Jr. played 26 games in the Dominican Winter League for Leones del Escogido in 2017-18, and 10 games in 2020-21, also for Leones del Escogido.
Guerrero moved from third base to first in 2020 after committing 17 errors in just 96 games at third in 2019. Since the transition, he has looked much more comfortable, only making 21 miscues in 295 games since then. The move will pay dividends for him in the WBC, since Manny Machado and Rafael Devers will battle it out to start at third base for the D.R. The only other player with experience playing first base on the roster is primary catcher Francisco Mejia, who has only played four MLB games at the position.
Both the Dominican Republic and Guerrero Jr. will be looking to secure a title for the country. The United States knocked off the D.R. in the 2017 WBC to advance to the semifinals. Similar to 2023, the two teams had stacked rosters in 2017, which made for fantastic matchups between them. Guerrero Jr. will not be just another star added to the lineup, but someone who can win the classic for his team with one swing. A World Baseball Classic championship would be his first career title, and give him more experience playing in a playoff-type environment, something the Toronto Blue Jays hope to be more involved in the coming years.
The Dominican Republic will compete in Pool D, along with Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Israel and Nicaragua. The first round for Pool D will be played at LoanDepot Park, home of the Miami Marlins, from March 11-15.