MIAMI – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. does not have much recollection of his father’s exploits in the nine All-Star Games he was invited to, except for the Home Run Derby that Senior won in San Francisco in 2007.
“Yesterday we were talking about that, him, Pedro Martinez and I,’’ the younger Guerrero said in Spanish. “That’s the only thing I remember.’’
Pedro Martinez, the Hall of Fame pitcher? You get to hang out much with him?
“Yes. He’s my grandfather.’’
Such is the life of the offspring of former major leaguers. Sunday’s Futures Games, which Team USA won 7-6 over the World squad, featured the progeny of four ex-All-Stars in Guerrero, Bo Bichette (son of Dante), Nick Gordon (son of Tom, brother of Dee) and Cal Quantrill (son of Paul).
Guerrero and Bichette garnered special attention not only because of their bloodlines, but also because they’re excelling together as teammates in the Toronto Blue Jays system. Last week they were both promoted from low-Class A Lansing (Mich.) to high-Class A Dunedin in the Florida State League.
At 18 and 19, respectively, they were the youngest players in Sunday’s showcase of baseball’s up-and-coming talent, an encouraging development for the Blue Jays organization in a year when the big league club has mostly resided in last place. Sunday, Guerrero had a pair of hits and scored two runs in four at-bats; Bichette was hitless in two plate appearances.
Guerrero, a third baseman who was batting .316 with seven home runs, 45 RBI and an .888 on-base plus slugging percentage, just got elevated from 16th to No. 2 in Baseball America’s midseason rankings of prospects.
Bichette, a shortstop and second baseman, moved up from 93rd to 44th after tearing up the Midwest League, batting .384 with 10 homers, 51 RBI and a hefty 1.071 OPS.
Though their conversations are constrained by a language barrier – the Dominican-raised Guerrero has limited command of English – they share the common experience of growing up around the game at its highest level as the sons of elite players.
The older Guerrero is one of six players ever to combine at least a .318 career batting average with 449 home runs, during a 16-year career highlighted by AL MVP honors in 2004. He received 71.7% of the vote in his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot last year and appears to be a shoo-in for induction.
Dante Bichette batted .299 with 274 home runs in his 14-year career and was runner-up for the 1995 NL MVP award.
“We probably understand each other a little bit more than other people understand us,’’ Bo Bichette said of himself and Vladimir Jr. “There’s a bit of a bonding in how we go about the game and how we prepare.’’
That’s not to say their backgrounds were entirely similar. At 53, Dante Bichette is 11 years older than Vladimir Sr. and was already retired during Bo’s formative years, affording him the chance to tutor him and older brother Dante, a minor leaguer in the New York Yankees system, in their central Florida hometown.
Vladimir Jr. developed his skills at the baseball academy run by his brother Wilton, a former major leaguer, in their tiny town of Don Gregorio in the Dominican Republic.
Perhaps that explains the difference in the hitting styles between father and son. Whereas Vladimir Sr. was known as the ultimate bad-ball hitter, his son – who received a $3.9 million bonus when he turned pro in July 2015 – has risen up the prospects ranks by combining a power stroke with plate discipline. He has 40 walks compared to 34 strikeouts this season. Vladimir Jr. has also shown increased discipline in front of a plate, shedding 18 pounds to his current 200, on a 6-1 frame.
“We’re different,’’ Junior said of comparisons to his more-athletic father. “He swung at everything, but I don’t. I look for my pitch and try to make good contact. He likes it, because he has his way and I have mine.’’
Chimed in Senior: “His story and mine are not the same. I had my career and he has to build his own. He needs to focus on his work and not try to do what I did.’’
That’s also sage advice for Bo Bichette, who at 6 feet is three inches shorter than his father, a four-time All-Star who in his prime was a member of the Colorado Rockies’ “Blake Street Bombers.’’
The promotion to Dunedin moves the younger Bichette within a 20-minute ride of the family home in St. Petersburg, Fla., closer to the life he enjoyed as a kid. Asked about the benefits and disadvantages of growing up as the son of a major league star, Bichette could only think of the positives.
“The pros are you get to learn what it takes to be the best in the world and you see it every single day,’’ Bichette said. “You understand the type of work it takes, mentally and physically, not just baseball but in the gym and all that kind of stuff. And you have your dad close to you growing up. I don’t think there’s any cons.’’
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