Career Profile: Vladimir Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero was signed by the Montreal Expos as a free agent from Bani in the Dominican Republic, signed in 1993. He made his debut that summer in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .333/.385/.400 in 34 games for the Expos' entry at age 17. Assigning letter grades to guys in the DSL isn't very meaningful, but he'd already made a name for himself as an intriguing tools prospect.
He moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 1994, hitting .314/.369/.562 in 37 games for the GCL Expos at age 18. Eddie Epstein wrote the first edition of the Minor League Scouting Notebook in '95, and he didn't write about short-season players. But Guerrero's performance didn't go unnoticed. He was named the Number Four prospect in the GCL by Baseball America, behind a second baseman named Sergio Nunez, a pitcher named Scott Elarton, and an outfielder named Andruw Jones. Guerrero's tools stood out, he was developing power, and his plate discipline was adequate. I would give a similar player today a B+ in most cases.
Promoted to Albany in the Sally League in 1995, Vlad hit .333/.383/.544 with 16 homers, 10 triples, and 12 steals. His OPS was a full +37 percent better than league average. He and Andruw Jones roamed the outfields of the Sally League, generating controversy about who was the best prospect. Although Guerrero drew just 30 walks, he struck out a mere 45 times in 421 at-bats. I gave him a Grade A- in the '96 book, ranking him as the Number 14 hitting prospect in the game, which seems low nowadays. The guys who ranked ahead of him are listed below in the comment thread.
Guerrero moved up to West Palm Beach in 1996, where he hit .363 in 20 games and earned a promotion to Double-A. He hit a mere .360/.438/.612 in the Eastern League, boosting his OPS to a superb +42 percent compared to league. He increased his walk rate while keeping his strikeout rate very low. I gave him a Grade A in the 1997 book, rating him as the Number Two prospect in baseball behind Andruw.
Skipping Triple-A, Vlad hit .302/.350/.483 (OPS+117, WAR 1.7) at age 21 for the Expos in 1997. He was even better in 1998 at .324/.371/.589 (OPS+150, WAR 7.0), beginning a long run as one of the top hitters in baseball. Although he's never won a batting title, he hit over .300 every season until 2009, when he hit "just" .295 for the Angels at age 34. He eventually lost his speed and his defense has deteriorated over time, but he remains a very dangerous hitter, with a .300/.345/.496 (OPS+122) mark last year at age 35.
His peak seasons were 2000 (.345/.410/.644, OPS+162, WAR 6.5) at age 24, and 2002 (.336/.417/.593, OPS+160, WAR 7.3) at age 26.
Vlad's career line is now .319/.382/.561, OPS+143, WAR 61.6. He's a nine-time All-Star. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame according to the Bill James measures. Although his Black Ink score is just 6 (HOFer average is 27), his Gray Ink is 166 (144), his Monitor rating is 196 (100), and his Standards rating is 57 (50).
Like many outstanding players, Guerrero is an archetype who isn't truly similar to anyone else. His highest Sim Score is just 891, which isn't truly similar. The list: Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Rice (HofF), Manny Ramirez, Duke Snider (HofF), Jeff Bagwell, Billy Williams (HofF), Juan Gonzalez, and Joe DiMaggio (HofF). That is an interesting mix of contemporaries and older players. There hasn't been nearly as much PED fact/rumor/speculation about Guerrero as there has been about many sluggers of his era, which helps his case.
As a prospect, Guerrero was a tools hound who also showed great skills, hitting for average, hitting for power. He didn't draw many walks, but he didn't strike out much either. That's exactly the player he became.