ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The 2020 season wasn’t over but when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. realized what he wanted to do.
He was, by his personal admission, obese. And the consequences on the sector have been obvious: The Toronto Blue Jays moved him throughout the diamond, from his longtime place of third base to first. He had a tough time scoring from first on a success within the hole. He struggled to succeed in low pitches whereas hitting. He grew drained after fielding 20 floor balls in follow.
So in late September, a number of weeks earlier than his staff appeared within the playoffs, Guerrero despatched a textual content message to somebody he had by no means met, a personal coach named Junior Rodriguez, and requested to work with him within the low season. That was the start of his journey — with assists from folks like his grandmother and Rodriguez — to bounce again from a season not befitting a participant of his expertise.
“One day, I woke up from bed, looked in the mirror and said, ‘That’s it,’” Guerrero, 22, mentioned in a current video name with reporters.
Between the playoffs in October and spring coaching in February, Guerrero shed 42 kilos from his 6-foot-2 body, dropping to roughly 245 kilos. He is now gliding across the bases, doing the splits to hoover up low throws at first, feeling spry and performing like among the best hitters in baseball. Entering Monday, he was hitting .338 with extra walks (16) than strikeouts (13), and had reached base an M.L.B.-best 43 instances.
He continues to be consuming his grandma’s residence cooking — who might say no? — however in smaller parts and with more healthy choices combined in, and fewer are late-night meals.
“He looks stronger, and he’s lighter on his feet running and moving around,” Guerrero’s grandmother Altagracia Alvino mentioned in Spanish in a current cellphone interview. She added later, “And what pleases me is that he’s continued with his diet.”
Alvino has continued to stay together with her grandson this season. The 10-11 Blue Jays are utilizing their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., as their regular-season residence with the United States-Canada border closed for nonessential travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Guerreros personal a house close by in Tampa. (And not like final yr, ought to the Blue Jays relocate to their Class AAA affiliate in Buffalo this summer, Alvino mentioned she deliberate to accompany Guerrero.)
Since Guerrero was a toddler, Alvino mentioned, he has had the identical physique kind. With preternatural abilities that belied his age, he shot by means of the minor leagues and was the highest prospect in baseball by 19. He reached the majors with a lot fanfare in 2019 and dazzled followers together with his prodigious energy throughout that yr’s Home Run Derby.
Over the previous few years, although, Guerrero’s weight grew. The Blue Jays had inspired and worked with him to reduce weight — and he did in spurts. But in baseball’s four-month pause final yr due to the pandemic, he grew heavier — for which he has said he apologized to his teammates.
“For the last couple years, they knew I was coming here out of shape,” Guerrero advised reporters in February. “I didn’t prepare myself very well.”
In the abbreviated 60-game 2020 season, the Blue Jays moved Guerrero to the much less demanding place of first base, and sometimes out of the infield fully, at designated hitter. He posted first rate numbers — a .262 batting common, 9 residence runs, a .791 on-base plus slugging proportion — and helped information the Blue Jays to their first playoff look in 4 years. But he and his staff knew he was able to a lot extra.
“Deep down inside, he knew he had a bad year,” Rodriguez mentioned in Spanish in a cellphone interview. “Not a really bad year, but at a physical level of performance, he was tired of being underestimated and feeling bad.”
At first, Alvino wasn’t fairly certain why Guerrero’s weight elevated final yr. Eating her cooking — she at all times removes extra fats from any meat she cooks, and sparingly makes use of oil — Alvino mentioned Guerrero misplaced some weight. But he then hit a plateau. She mentioned the Blue Jays even requested her if something had modified, and he or she insisted nothing had.
Later, although, she mentioned, she poked round and found two doable culprits: gentle beers within the fridge subsequent to the pool desk at residence, the place Guerrero frolicked with household and buddies, and late-night snacking after she had fed him dinner.
“I told him, ‘My love, what I’m doing with my hands, you’re destroying with your feet,’” Alvino mentioned, repeating a typical saying in Spanish.
So in September, Guerrero linked with Rodriguez, a private coach who has labored with different main leaguers like Ketel Marte, Ramon Laureano and Santiago Espinal, considered one of Guerrero’s teammates.
Soon after Guerrero returned to the Dominican Republic following the Blue Jays’ playoff exit, Rodriguez swung by the Guerreros’ residence to satisfy his new consumer for the primary time. Rodriguez felt what would make the most important distinction was getting Guerrero to purchase into way of life modifications, so he was blunt.
“I lowered his morale a little, but I was being sincere with him,” Rodriguez mentioned. “I told him: ‘You should be embarrassed that fans are underestimating you and talking bad about you, and you are one of the best prospects in the big leagues. Let’s commit to this; I’ll commit to you and you to me. I don’t want this just for 2021, but forever. You’re going to sleep like an athlete, you’re going to eat like an athlete, you’re going to train like an athlete.’”
And to Guerrero’s credit score, he did. For 90 minutes a session, 4 instances every week within the winter, on the gymnasium in Guerrero’s home, Rodriguez trained Guerrero. He guided him by means of levels of conditioning, stretching, weight lifting and leaping workouts, specializing in enhancing any bodily limitations. For instance: Rodriguez mentioned the dearth of vary of movement in Guerrero’s torso dampened his energy.
“It’s been a change of 180 degrees,” Rodriguez mentioned. “This is a very different Vladimir.”
Away from the gymnasium, Guerrero turned extra disciplined — and the folks round him helped. He elevated his water consumption. He stopped snacking after dinner. No extra alcohol, fried meals or sugar. He slashed his portion sizes, one thing Alvino mentioned she needed to get used to. She mentioned a longtime household buddy who additionally cooks has additionally saved a watch on the parts.
Alvino mentioned she made Guerrero a cucumber-green apple-celery juice earlier than the morning exercises and a papaya-oatmeal-cinnamon shake within the evenings. Lunch was the most important meal of the day. Although Guerrero by no means ate lots of rice, Alvino mentioned, she began utilizing a smaller spoon to serve him. He nonetheless bought a traditional quantity of her stewed beans, his favourite, and meat or fish.
“If he finishes fast, I say, ‘Are you still hungry?’” she mentioned. “He says, ‘No, abuela, I’m OK.’”
Guerrero nonetheless takes Alvino’s conventional Dominican meals to the stadium to share. If he’s hungry after night time video games, she makes him a small meal of grilled hen or fish and greens. (And if she makes mangú, a dish of mashed boiled plantains, she mentioned, she makes use of water and milk however not butter.)
Guerrero mentioned in a current video name with reporters that his physique felt “really different” now and that he was happy with his low season work. He mentioned he deliberate to stay with the present routine for the remainder of his profession. At the plate, he mentioned, he felt higher than on the peak of his minor league profession (he as soon as hit .381 in a season). And despite the fact that he had initially hoped to return to 3rd base, he mentioned he was blissful taking part in wherever the Blue Jays wanted him.
“I can do a lot of things I couldn’t do before and, thank God, I feel very comfortable at the weight I’m at,” he mentioned.
Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo mentioned a fitter Guerrero had proven enchancment in each facet of his play on the sector. Guerrero is hitting the ball even more durable than common this yr, trailing solely a handful of stars like Ronald Acuña Jr. of Atlanta and Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees in that class.
“He’s back to being Vladdy, smiling in the dugout, having fun,” mentioned shortstop Bo Bichette, who has performed alongside Guerrero since they have been youngsters and believed his buddy had the flexibility to be the perfect hitter in baseball. “I haven’t seen him get out and smile about his outs since Double-A, and he’s been doing that a lot because he knows he’s going to get them at some point.”
The baseball season, although, is arduously lengthy and checks everybody. Rodriguez mentioned he regularly sends Guerrero reminders to remain on prime of his routine. Montoyo wasn’t planning on doing the identical.
“He’s on a mission, and he doesn’t need any help right now,” he mentioned of Guerrero. “He knows what he needs to do and he’s doing it.”