Vlad improving at extended spring training

Vlad improving at extended spring training

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- A healthy and mobile Vladimir Guerrero is starting to make waves at the Blue Jays' Minor League complex in preparation for another year in the big leagues.

Guerrero, who recently signed a Minor League contract, still doesn't have a guaranteed job with the club, but that seems like a mere formality after a string of glowing reports from the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

The 37-year-old veteran is moving free and easy following a year of problems with his left knee, and now it's just a matter of getting his timing down at the plate before Guerrero is ready for the next step.

"I haven't seen that many live pitches and I'd like to make sure that when I get there I am 100 percent," Guerrero said through interpreter and agent Jay Alou. "I don't want to say a day, I don't want to say I'll be ready tomorrow. But I want to make sure that when I do show up, I'm 100 percent."

Guerrero reported to Florida on May 14 after choosing the Blue Jays over similar offers from Cleveland, Arizona and Kansas City. Five days later, he began appearing in intrasquad games, and on Tuesday Guerrero recorded a pair of hits to go along with a stolen base in an exhibition game against players from Pittsburgh's system.

The 16-year veteran played left field against the Pirates and appeared to be doing everything possible to make a strong impression with his new club. On one long drive to right field, Guerrero sprinted into the infield to back up third base to guard against an errant throw.

The Blue Jays still view Guerrero primarily as a designated hitter, but manager John Farrell would expect nothing less than that type of effort from the former American League Most Valuable Player.

"From what I know of Vlad, I don't know that he would go about it any other way," Farrell said. "This is someone that is seeing this opportunity, not only as a real one but one that I'm sure he is doing everything that he is capable of to make it come to life."

When the Blue Jays initially signed Guerrero it wasn't immediately clear what type of role he would have with the club, but a lot has changed during the past week. Toronto outrighted veteran Adam Lind to the Minor Leagues on Friday and has since transitioned Edwin Encarnacion to DH.

Lind's departure not only cleared up a spot on the 40-man roster for Guerrero, but also one in the starting lineup. That doesn't mean, though, that the club is going to rush Guerrero to the big leagues to fill the void.

The plan is still to have Guerrero spend at least another day or two in extended spring camp and then begin advancing through the club's Minor League system. The first destination likely will be Class A Dunedin, followed by a stint with Double-A New Hampshire of the Eastern League.

"There's not a time frame, they want to make sure he's ready," Alou said. "I keep telling Vladdy, a lot of players have to work on their timing, their trigger, when they put their foot down and all that. He's pretty much: see the ball, hit the ball. So we're hoping that he gets there a lot sooner than most guys could."

One of the motivating factors for Guerrero's return to the big leagues is his continued quest for 500 career home runs. He currently sits 51 away from that goal and appears determined to keep playing beyond this season in an effort to get there.

In order to put a large dent into that number this season he'll need to improve on last year's totals with Baltimore. Guerrero managed to hit .290 but posted just 13 home runs and a career low .733 OPS in 145 games with Baltimore.

Guerrero has now jumped over to another AL East team, and although he received offers from four different organizations, the decision to head north was an easy one, according to the nine-time All-Star.

"Definitely going back to where it all started," said Guerrero, who spent the first eight years of his career with the Expos. "I feel like this is where I started, it's not the same city, but it's Canada. I think going back [I feel] kind of like renewed. I feel like I'm going to be very, very comfortable.

"The people in Montreal, the fans, were very different. I felt like I could walk down the street like I was in the Dominican. Nobody would attack me or anything like that. They'd say hi and I felt very, very comfortable on the streets. Then again, when I got to the ballpark, then they became fans -- that's what I really liked about it."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.