'This is my season': MLB The Show 24 cover star Vlad Guerrero Jr. looks to bounce back (2024)

  • 'This is my season': MLB The Show 24 cover star Vlad Guerrero Jr. looks to bounce back (1)

    Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff WriterJan 30, 2024, 01:00 PM ET


      ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was in the Dominican Republic playing MLB The Show 23 with David Ortiz and Latin rapper Eladio Carrión when his father, Vlad Sr., called him over. The elder Guerrero opened an overhead door within his home to reveal a placard that displayed his son on the cover of the 2024 version -- Vlad Jr.'s right index finger pressed upon his lips during a home run trot, streaks of red, blue and yellow speckled around him.

Christmas was about a week away, and Vlad Jr. already knew he had been selected as The Show's next cover athlete. The reveal was part of a documentary being filmed to celebrate the popular video game series, the latest of which launches March 19. But finally seeing it for himself -- and having his father, the Hall of Fame outfielder who graced the game's cover in 2006, be the one to show him -- hit a little different.

"It was an emotion that I can't really explain," the younger Guerrero said in Spanish. "When you see something like that, a lot of things cross through your mind from when you were little, playing PlayStation with your friends, with your family. You look up one moment and suddenly it's you on the cover. It's just a huge honor for me."

Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Javier Báez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Jazz Chisholm Jr. were the MLB The Show cover athletes from 2018 to 2023, respectively. It's an esteemed title for a gaming-obsessed generation of athletes, an affirmation of both ability and prominence.

But Guerrero -- an avid gamer who has created a "Diamond Dynasty" team with two of his cousins that, as of a week ago, boasts a 92-44 record -- is still searching for his real-life peak.

His 2021 season felt like a revelation. Guerrero paced the majors in home runs while leading the American League in on-base percentage and slugging at just 22 years old, producing the type of offensive numbers only the best of the best had ever attained at that age. Had Ohtani not put together a transcendent season as a two-way phenomenon, Guerrero would've become the second-youngest MVP in baseball history.

But his OPS slipped from 1.002 to .818 in 2022, and it dipped further in 2023 to .788, topped by 59 other qualified hitters. He slashed .264/.345/.444 with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs, producing 17% above league average based on adjusted OPS. He was good, but he had once again fallen short of the elite standard he set for himself two years earlier, prompting many to wonder who, exactly, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is as he settles into his mid-20s.

The 2024 season is crucial in determining that.

"I've said this since last year -- that this is my season, and that this is when people are going to know about me," Guerrero said. "It's going to be either 'Vlad Jr. is back' or 'Vlad Jr. stayed behind.' But I'm focused on what I have to do and, with God's grace, 100% confident in myself that this year is going to be great."

Guerrero's underlying numbers offer some encouragement. His 92 mph average exit velocity last season was only a slight drop-off from where it finished in 2021 and still within the top 10% in the sport. He continued to make contact at an elite level -- his 15.6% strikeout rate from 2021 to 2023 ranks 43rd among 391 qualified hitters -- and he carried an expected batting average of .294, ranked 12th. Guerrero has always produced fewer fly balls than one would expect for a run producer of his caliber, but he has also boasted the ability to transcend that with hard contact. That wasn't necessarily the case in 2023.

Perhaps it came down to not doing anywhere near enough damage on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone, his sweet spot these past two years.

Perhaps, too, it was injuries.

"One of the things that mostly got in my way last year was health," Guerrero said. "But I've learned a lot about that -- about how to take care of my body a lot more."

Guerrero won the Home Run Derby in July, fulfilling a childhood dream 16 years after his father did the same. Shortly after that, Guerrero said, he began to experience soreness in his right knee, an issue that necessitated an MRI on Sept. 20. His left wrist, which forced him to miss some time in May, was also an intermittent problem.

"But those are things that are part of the sport," Guerrero said. "I don't blame that. I'm not saying that because I had some discomfort, I didn't do my job. But that is one of the things that we've focused on this offseason in trying to improve each of the things that bothered me last year."

Guerrero took pride in once again avoiding the injured list, continuing a remarkable run of durability that has seen him miss only nine games since his first full season in 2020. Down the stretch, he was at his best, producing a September OPS of .848 to help the Blue Jays land a wild-card spot. But he knows there's more in him. He spent the ensuing winter focusing on treatment and strengthening "muscles that you don't even think about" in hopes of preventing ailments from worsening throughout a season.

Guerrero, whose 2024 salary remains unsettled and might trigger an arbitration hearing, is entering his penultimate season before free agency. Barring an extension, he'll hit the open market at 26 years old, about the age when superstar players typically sign market-altering contracts. These next two years will dictate whether Guerrero ultimately lands one.

It might also shape the dynamic of the AL East.

The Blue Jays have navigated a rather conservative offseason in the wake of a second consecutive first-round playoff loss. They chased Ohtani aggressively but fell short to the Los Angeles Dodgers and have, at least for now, avoided top-tier free agents such as Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman. Their additions have been relatively subtle -- center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, designated hitter Justin Turner, Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodríguez, utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa -- while the rest of their division has become more competitive.

The New York Yankees traded for Juan Soto, the Baltimore Orioles are ascending on the back of the best young nucleus in the sport, and the Blue Jays' window to contend around their exciting core might be shrinking. Guerrero, Bo Bichette and Jordan Romano can all become free agents within the next two years; George Springer, Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt are all well into their 30s.

The Blue Jays, more than ever, need Guerrero to be elite again.

They need video-game numbers.

"I feel 100%," Guerrero said of his health. "And I feel 150% about getting back to who I was."

'This is my season': MLB The Show 24 cover star Vlad Guerrero Jr. looks to bounce back (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Virgilio Hermann JD

Last Updated:

Views: 6187

Rating: 4 / 5 (41 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Virgilio Hermann JD

Birthday: 1997-12-21

Address: 6946 Schoen Cove, Sipesshire, MO 55944

Phone: +3763365785260

Job: Accounting Engineer

Hobby: Web surfing, Rafting, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Ghost hunting, Swimming, Amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Virgilio Hermann JD, I am a fine, gifted, beautiful, encouraging, kind, talented, zealous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.