Signed as an international free agent for $1.5 million in July 2015, SS Jeison Guzman has certainly had his share of both supporters and detractors when it comes to his potential and his ability to fulfill it. However, while he’s been a pro since age 17, he’s also been well below the average age at every level since the beginning.
Guzman played 45 games for the AZL Royals in 2016, slashing .261/.329/.378 in 208 PA (.706 OPS). He also played nine games in the Dominican Summer League, going 6-38 with two doubles in that limited span.
Guzman moved on to Burlington in 2017, playing against opponents more than two years older, on average, and it showed in the slash-line (.207/.286/.249). He managed only six XBH in 54 games, though his K:BB ratio wasn’t all that bad considering his age and experience level, at that point. He seemed to show signs that he was learning to drive the ball in 2018 with Lexington, though the numbers weren’t staggering (.239/.312/.349, .661 OPS).
After batting .186 (.571 OPS) over 11 games in May, Guzman found himself back in Burlington, where he showed more patience at the plate but managed only four XBH in 106 AB. Returning to Lexington on the 23rd of July, Guzman went 12-35 over his next ten games (.343/.378/.429), but plummeted to .215 over the remainder of the season (20 games, four doubles, one HR, four RBI).
An ice-cold start to 2019 (.158/.210/.224 in 83 April PA) was overshadowed by a May in which he posted an .807 OPS (10 XBH, 12 RBI). June found him trending downward, once again (.270 BA, .648 OPS, 5 XBH, 10 RBI), though an 0-12 skid to end the month led to a 37-point drop in his average for the month (from .307).
Much of what caused Guzman’s numbers to suffer in previous years is the same thing that most every young player struggles with: pitch recognition. In 2018, he would often find himself making weak contact or swinging through off-speed offerings, whereas he seems to check his swing on those same pitches more often this year. Guzman does have some untapped raw power, but he’s likely to remain more of a doubles hitter as opposed to putting up more than fringe-average home-run numbers. What home-run power he will develop will likely remain pull-side.
While he came into the pro ranks with a good defensive reputation, Guzman has shown very good range and arm strength but has produced inconsistent results. His lateral range and actions are smooth, but he sometimes has a tough time keeping grounders in front of him. He reminds me somewhat of former Legends IF Humberto Arteaga, who also made his full-season debut during his Age-19 season, though Arteaga was more advanced, defensively.
Most of the weaknesses in Guzman’s game could readily be attributed to the aforementioned lack of experience, but this is a pivotal year for him. He has shown signs that he’s made progress with the bat, and that ought to be followed by an increase in extra-base pop as be learns to maintain his confidence at the plate. He has the arm to move to third, if needed, and could cover enough ground to pick up time in left or perhaps center, but he has the physical ability to remain at short. Guzman may take some time to reach his full potential, but there’s no reason thus far to doubt that he will. Making the step to High-A will be tougher for him at the plate than it will be in the field, but it’s liable to take a year or even two before either happens. Guzman is worth the wait.