Guerrero Jr. set for Triple-A debut after stop in Cooperstown

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Spending the weekend in Cooperstown, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. received a reminder of how much dedication it took his father to earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It was a timely lesson for Guerrero now that minor league baseball’s acclaimed top prospect enters the next step of his career.

“I feel really happy that my dad achieved that, that he got there because it showed how much work he did to get there,” Guerrero said through an interpreter, Blue Jays mental performance coach Rafael Dubois. “And right now, it’s just keep working, keep working. And I’m happy that I’m here now.”

Here is Buffalo, where the 19-year-old was to make his Triple-A debut with the Toronto Blue Jays’ top affiliate Tuesday night.

Guerrero was to start at third base and hit third against Lehigh Valley. He was wearing No. 27, the same number his father, Vladimir Guerrero, had during a 16-year majorl league career capped by his induction on Sunday.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Guerrero Jr. said. “I just try to get better every day.”

The only thing to slow Guerrero’s trajectory thus far since being signed by the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old was a strained left knee ligament that forced him to miss a little over a month with Double-A New Hampshire.

He returned July 19, went 10 for 29 with three home runs and five RBIs in seven games and was promoted. Overall with New Hampshire this season, he has a .402 batting average, with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 61 games.

In Toronto, fans are already awaiting the youngster’s arrival to spark an under-performing team that’s suddenly decided to retool for the future. At one recent home game, someone posted a sign on a stadium deck which read: “We Want Vladdy.”

There’s also a buzz in Buffalo, where the Bisons are counting on Guerrero providing a boost in production and promotion.

The Bisons broke tradition and opened the stadium gates three hours before game time to allow fans to watch batting practice. About 150 were on hand when Guerrero stepped to the plate.

After hitting a couple of grounders and line drives, he hit a long fly ball that landed at the foot of the center field fence, near the 404-foot mark. Two pitches later, Guerrero hit a ball over the 371-foot mark of the left-field fence.

Dan Lillis made the two-hour drive from Toronto and plans to attend the final four games of Buffalo’s homestand.

“Most of us think the season’s pretty much over and they’d like to see him as soon as possible coming up,” said Lillis, who attends about 30 Blue Jays games a year. “I think he’s the future.”

Bisons manager and former major leaguer Bobby Meacham said the organization is taking a cautious approach.

“My job is to help him get better and better every day here,” Meacham said. “The Blue Jays have done a great job with promoting him at the right time. He’s had a good spell in Double-A, and hopefully that translates to Triple-A.”

Meacham said he’s already had several conversations with Guerrero since he arrived Monday, but has seen him play just once.

“For me, it’s just to see him go out there and perform and see if he’s like everybody says he is and as good as everybody says he is as a hitter and help him get better,” he said.

Guerrero isn’t looking beyond Buffalo.

“I can’t think in the future,” he said. “I think in the moment. And I just need to focus on doing my job.”

Guerrero doesn’t expect his father to see him play in Buffalo because of various commitments with the Los Angeles Angels.

His grandmother, Altagracia Alvino, will continue living with Guerrero as she did in New Hampshire.

He flashed a toothy grin when asked about his grandmother, who cooks for him and does his laundry — “She doesn’t allow me to do it,” he said.

“If I move to China, she comes with me to China,” Guerrero said. “I always get advice from here. She’s there to support me.”

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