Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. targets Kendrys Morales as mentor

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- As he headed to his first big league camp with the Toronto Blue Jays, touted phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. asked his famous father whether he had any words of wisdom for him.

Vladimir Guerrero Sr. gave him just one piece of advice: to follow in the footsteps of one of his teammates, one who is considered a member of the family and whom he has known since he was six-years-old -- veteran Blue Jays DH Kendrys Morales.

Morales, now in his 13th season in Major League Baseball, defected from Cuba in 2004 and went on to sign a six-year, $4.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels that winter.

When Morales first arrived in the Angels clubhouse, it was Guerrero Sr. who took him under his wing. Morales eventually broke out big, delivering a 34-home run season in 2009 -- Guerrero Sr.'s last season with the team -- driving in 108 runs while hitting .306 as the Angels' first baseman. After stints with the Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins, Morales served as the DH for the Kansas City Royals in their championship season in 2015.

"When I was a rookie, Vladimir was a major league superstar," Morales said. "And while he was a great ballplayer, he's a better person. He was so humble. I got to know the Guerrero family very well and he would take me to his house and take care of me like a member of his family. And now it's my turn to do the same thing he did with me. He taught me everything I know about being a major league player and I hope I can do the same for his son, the way he did with me. We all know the kind of talent that Vladimir Jr. has. He's very smart at the plate, and those are things you can't teach. He's got natural ability. And if he continues to work hard he'll be a superstar like his father."

Now, the Hall of Famer hopes Morales can pay him back in kind by doing the same with his son, "Vladdy," the uniquely talented prospect touted as baseball's best by multiple MLB analysts and sources. Guerrero Jr. earned that on the strength of his hitting .381/.437/.636 with 20 home runs in the minor leagues last season.

"I have never said this to anyone: When I told my dad I got the spring training invite, he told me, 'Son, you want to be the best? Do you want to continue being the best? Wherever Kendrys Morales goes, you follow,'" Guerrero told ESPN. "I asked him why he would say that to me, and he replied, 'When Kendrys Morales was a rookie, he did all the things that you need to do by following my example. Anywhere I went, he followed. So what you see in him, that's the way I did things when I was playing.'"

Guerrero has taken his father's advice to heart, frequently gathering with around Morales' locker alongside other young Latin players, such as Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernández, and fellow prospects Richard Ureña and David Paulino, to listen to stories about his own father's playing days with the Angels.

"Kendrys Morales is like my dad," Guerrero said. "I say that because I grew up alongside him, and right now I feel really proud to play with him, and he says he feels proud to play with me."

Fueling the anticipation of fans, Guerrero Jr., has, apparently by accident, been putting on a show.

"(During batting practice,) my focus is to hit the ball way over the shortstop or over the second baseman ... and the ball goes out," he said. "If the ball goes out of the park during a game, it's not going to bother me. But I am not out there looking to hit a home run."

But Opening Night of the "Vladdy Show" likely won't be on Opening Day.

The Blue Jays have been targets of widespread criticism, as it is anticipated that Guerrero will start the year in Triple-A instead of proving his major league worth from day one. Nonetheless, Vladdy seems to be in no hurry.

"Every single day, I work hard to be better. Every player wants to be with their team on Opening Day. But for me, I just want to work and work until that day comes," he said. "I don't know when that will be. It could be at the beginning (of the season) or at the end. It's their decision. And what I have to do is work hard."

And to Jays fans, Guerrero preached patience.

"They have to trust -- trust that the day will come. The day will come. No one wants this more desperately than my family," he said. "But thank God, I have a lot of faith in God. and I always say, 'The day will come.' I am 19 years old, and I have been waiting 19 years for this. When the day comes, it will come."