Back in the NH groove: Guerrero here — for nowBy ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 21. 2018 12:33AM
MANCHESTER — When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. returned to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats clubhouse Thursday, he had a smile on his face, as did his teammates.
After spending more than a month away from the team while recovering from a strained patellar tendon in his left knee, Guerrero Jr. was happy to be back in New Hampshire.
“I felt excited to be here. I think that they felt the same way,” Guerrero Jr. said through a translator before New Hampshire hosted the Harrisburg Senators Friday night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Guerrero Jr. was placed on the disabled list on June 7 after leaving the Fisher Cats’ game against Akron the day before. The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic owned a .407 batting average with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs over 53 games before the injury.
The top-ranked prospect in baseball, according to both Baseball America and MLB.com, did not play in a game again until July 13, the beginning of his four-game rehab assignment before returning to Manchester.
Guerrero Jr. said his recent stint on the disabled list was the longest of his professional career.
“Of course it’s hard and of course I missed (playing) but my focus was to work hard to get back soon,” Guerrero Jr. said. “That was kind of my main focus when I was going through that process.”
Guerrero Jr. followed the rehab plan the Toronto Blue Jays provided him, doing the best he could to get healthy.
The time off has not negatively affected the power hitter’s swing. Guerrero Jr. went 5-for-13 with two RBIs, four runs scored and one walk over his four rehab games — three with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays and one with Advanced-A Dunedin (Fla.).
In his return to the Fisher Cats Thursday, Guerrero Jr. went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in a 6-3 win over Harrisburg.
“I think when you’re looking at arguably the best offensive player in the minors, it’s going to help any team but for as good as he is — I’ve said this so many times — he is that much fun to be around,” Fisher Cats manager John Schneider said of Guerrero Jr.’s return. “The guys were happy to have him back, hitting third and playing third (base) and they were happy to have him back in the clubhouse every day.”
On the field, Schneider compared taking Guerrero Jr. off New Hampshire’s roster to removing Mike Trout from the Los Angeles Angels. In the clubhouse, the team missed the young slugger’s personality.
“I could tell stories for days about him just messing around in the clubhouse,” Schneider said. “We were in Hartford awhile back….I think it was (pitcher) Jose Fernandez at the time. He said, ‘Hey, come here, I need to talk to you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ And Vladdy was hiding underneath the table and jumped out and scared me.”
Schneider does not know how long Guerrero Jr. will remain with the Fisher Cats. Before Guerrero Jr. came off the disabled list, the Toronto Sun reported the Blue Jays seriously considered assigning him to Triple-A Buffalo when he was activated. Schneider would not be surprised to see Guerrero Jr. in Toronto’s lineup sometime before the end of the season.
“If the timing is right, and that’s what the big club needs, he could go there right now and play. I said that back in May,” Schneider said. “I’ve learned in my career as a manager and as a coach, you never say always and you never say never but Vladdy is giving himself a pretty (darn) good chance to be up there and be pretty successful.”
For now, Guerrero Jr. is focused simply on working and playing hard while helping the Fisher Cats earn victories.
“The guys are enjoying having him here. He enjoys being here with these guys,” Schneider said. “As long as he’s here, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to continue to try to get better every day and whenever the time is right — because he’s a special player — when he does go, it’s what’s best for him and ultimately our organization.”