- June 16, 2018: Yuli Gurriel has taken to first base so well that Astros manager AJ Hinch said that he's played at a "Gold Glove caliber" level. One of Gurriel's biggest improvements has been scooping balls out of the dirt, something he's done with perfection this year. Gurriel leads the Majors in scoop percentage in having successfully caught all 21 throws that bounced in front of him at first base this year -- prior to the game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Hinch said Gurriel's defense has been a very underrated part of his game.
"He's been very good around the bag," Hinch said. "He's the best in the league at picking balls, at least the most successful, I know that. His athleticism from being on the left side of the diamond his whole life has translated well to first base. He's done a lot of work starting last season and into this year to learn the little nuances of first base and all the responsibility. The progress has been incredible and his performance this year has been the best in the league."
Gurriel was a star third baseman for more than a decade in Cuba before defecting to the U.S. in 2016 and eventually signing with the Astros. With Alex Bregman an up-and-coming star at third base and Carlos Correa the same at shortstop, the Astros moved Gurriel to first base -- a position of need at the time.
Hinch said Gurriel works routinely on fielding balls in the dirt, which is something he struggled with at times last year. Also, playing first base for the Astros is a little more challenging considering the amount of shifts the team employs, which means Gurriel sometimes plays well off the bag. "He's got great hands and that's from being a third baseman and shortstop," Hinch said. "He's saved more than one error."
|Birth City:||Sancti Spíritus, Cuba|
|Draft:||2016 - Astros - Free agent - Out of Cuba|
Gurriel started playing for the Cuban National Team at age 17. And he has been one of the top prospects on Cuba's team since the 2003 World Cup, when he was a star at the plate and at second base as a 19-year-old.
Yulieski led the 2005 Baseball World Cup with 8 homers and was second to Michel Enriquez with 19 RBI. He hit .319/.385/.894 with 12 runs in 11 games. Joey Votto was second in home runs, three behind Gurriel. He made the All-Tournament Team.
Gurriel was the star of the Cuban National Team, which lost in the final of the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Yulieski rotated between second base and third base. That year, Cuba failed to make the finals in a global baseball event for the first time in 58 years. He hit .333/.333/.625 with 2 homers, 5 runs and 6 RBI in a solid six games.
Yulieski's father, Lourdes Gourriel, is a coach on the national team and used to play for Cuba's national team. His brother is Yuniesky Gourriel and his uncle is Luis Enrique Gourriel, both former or current teammates on Sancti Spiritus. He is also the great-nephew of José R. Delgado and cousin of Yoannys Delgado.
- Gurriel played second base for Cuba in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic, making the final out for Cuba in their championship game loss to Japan. He batted .273 in the tournament, with a .342 on base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage. (Coincidentally, later in the finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Tournament, he again made the final out by grounding out into double play against South Korea.)
He played for Cuba again in the 2009 World Baseball Classic this time in third base and batted for .333 in the tournament with 2 home runs and 6 RBI.
Yulieski scoffs at suggestions he should or would defect.
"I'm only interested in playing ball, that’s what I concentrate on,” said Gourriel. “If I paid attention to all the other things, I wouldn’t play as well—that’s what I’m here for, to play for my country.”
“My commitment is to my family, which has guided me since I was little, and the revolution, which has guaranteed me everything I’ve needed to become a ballplayer,” he said. “That’s all I need as a person. I have definite convictions."
Yulieski is a clean liver. He doesn't drink, doesn't party. He is a milder version of a Cuban baseball player.
Gourriel played for Cuba in three World Baseball Classics and has a .336 average and 258 home runs over 13 seasons in Cuba.
Yulieski's younger brother, shortstop Lourdes Gourriel, was his teammate in 2015 with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.
July 16, 2016: The Astros announced the signing of Gurriel at Minute Maid Park, via scout Charlie Gonzalez. He received a 5-year, $47.5 million contract. Gurriel, 32, is considered one of the most celebrated players from Cuba. He was an Olympian in 2004 and represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments.
"We're delighted to be adding a talent of this caliber," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "This player has had an incredible history of success … and we're very delighted that he's going to be able to play for the Houston Astros and help us win championships. That's why he's here. That's why we're here."
During his 15-year career with the Cuban National Series and Japan Central League, Gurriel racked up 1,585 hits, 308 doubles, 48 triples, 250 home runs, 1,018 RBIs and 974 runs while batting for a .335 average with a .997 OPS. The veteran defected from Cuba after the Caribbean Series in February 2014. He was then declared a free agent on June 13 and had private workouts with the Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Padres and Yankees along with the Astros in the past month before signing with Houston.
Gurriel said he became a fan of the Astros during the team's postseason run in 2015.
"The spirit these guys bring is the spirit of playing great baseball," Gurriel said through a translator.
August 21, 2016: Talented Cuban prospect Yulieski Gurriel is set to make his much-anticipated Major League debut. Houston manager A.J. Hinch revealed that Gurriel has been called up and will be in the Astros' lineup as the team's designated hitter for its series finale in Baltimore. First baseman Tyler White was sent down to Triple-A Fresno to make room for Gurriel on the roster.
"He got up to 50 at-bats with us in the Minor Leagues," Hinch said. "That's a normal Spring Training for him. We've bounced him around the country. But from a baseball standpoint, he's ready and he's ready for this challenge. To add him to this group is exciting for us, certainly fun for us, our guys will be excited about it. His baseball readiness? He's in shape and ready to go."
Gurriel, 32, made headlines when he signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Astros in July after declaring as a free agent June 13. He defected from Cuba alongside his younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (who also has Major League potential) after the Caribbean Series in February and had been training in Miami prior to signing with Houston.
"I'm very content," Gurriel said through a translator upon signing. "I've waited a long time for this day. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy it's Houston, and that I'm arriving to this part in my life that's so exciting."
Though he'd played just 15 games in the Astros' Minor League system, the team's management appears to believe that he can provide a boost to a club that sits 4 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card spot in the American League. In those 15 games in the Minors, Gurriel posted a .250 batting average and a .691 OPS with two home runs in 61 plate appearances.
Gurriel is considered one of the most celebrated players from Cuba. He was an Olympian in 2004, and represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He was part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.
The veteran infielder, who can play second base and third base, projects to hit .285 with 15-18 home runs and 85 RBIs over a big league season. He's been described as a more fluid and athletic Jeff Kent. In 2015, Gurriel hit .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs, 20 doubles and 51 RBIs in 49 games for the Havana Industriales. (M Kelly - MLB.com - Aug 21, 2016)
In Spring, 2017, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Yulieski as the 8th-best prospect in the Astros organization.
October 28, 2017: Gurriel received a five-game suspension without pay for an offensive gesture directed at Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish during Game 3 of the World Series, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced.
Gurriel will not miss any World Series games, and his suspension will begin at the start of the 2018 season. He was in the lineup for Saturday's Game 4 against the Dodgers, batting fifth and playing first base. (Anthony Castrovince - MLB.com)
March 29, 2018: Gurriel avoids DL but suspension continues. First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who underwent surgery on Feb. 28 to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand, will likely avoid the disabled list to start the season. Instead he began serving a five-game suspension, when he was placed on the restricted list, meaning he could be eligible to play against the Orioles at Minute Maid Park.
Gurriel, who was suspended in October 2017, for an offensive gesture he made toward former Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish during the World Series, is at the team's Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., continuing his rehab from the surgery. He won't be able to participate in the Astro's home opener and pregame festivities, which are to include the unveiling of the 2017 World Series championship banner, but he will be eligible to be on the field for the ring ceremony.
"He can't really do anything with us," manager AJ Hinch said. "He's down in West Palm being part of the Minor League Spring Training that's still going on. He's got 10 or 11 at-bats in the past couple of days in a game, which is a good start to getting back healthy. Once his suspension is served, we'll make a determination whether he's healthy enough to join us."
There's a chance Gurriel could be placed on the DL after the five days are up if he has a setback or hasn't progressed as expected. "Anything can happen in the next few days, but we certainly hope that he's ready to go," Hinch said. (B McTaggart - MLB.com - March 29, 2018)
May 13, 2014: Gourriel became the third Cuban baseball player to legally join a foreign team under a law passed by the talent-rich Communist island last year.
The 30-year-old infielder signed with Japan's Yokohama DeNA BayStars for one season, for an amount he declined to disclose. The BayStars play in Japan's Central League.
- July 16, 2016: The Astros and Yulieski have agreed to a five-year deal worth $47.5 million, according to industry sources.
Gurriel is an impressive righthanded hitter. He squares up on the ball real well. He has very good bat speed from strong hands and his very quick wrists. He hits for a very nice batting average and impressive power.
In 2014 and 2015, he was generally thought to be the most talented infielder in the world who is not playing in the majors by most scouts and GMs around baseball.
Yulieski has an unconventional approach at the plate. He has a bat wrap that creates length in his swing, but he has the strength and bat speed to get away with it, showing the ability to square up mid-90s fastballs.
He has terrific bat speed, good hand-eye coordination and barrel control, which helps him make consistent contact. He does chase pitches at times but generally has a sound hitting approach, staying within the strike zone and using the middle of the field, with 65 raw power on the 20-80 scale.
It doesn't matter if the pitcher throws 98 mph or 88 mph, Gurriel can hit it.
Gurriel has a long, sinewy-strong body, comparable to a young Chipper Jones or Ernie Banks.
Yulieski takes a very aggressive cut. He has real good power to all fields from impressive bat speed. He really doesn't have a weakness.
Gurriel did look a bit rusty in 2016 during his Major League debut. He has to adjust to seeing better breaking balls.
- As of the start of the 2018 season, Yuli's career Major League stats were: .291 batting average, 192 hits, 50 doubles, and 21 home runs with 90 RBI in 659 at-bats.
Yulieski plays mostly at third base, but has seen action at first base and is adequate in left field.
His arm is very good. He's both agile and athletic for a guy in his early 30s.
He has good instincts and quick reflexes, so he’s capable of making a spectacular play, especially when he gets to show off his 70 arm. There were times when Gurriel frustrates scouts (and Cuban fans) by botching the routine play, which many believe are mental lapses, because he has all the ingredients to be an above-average defender.
He has quick hands and good body control, even though he is not as nimble as when he was younger.
September 2, 2016: The Astros put Gurriel at first base, a position he'd never played before. He'd been mostly a third baseman in Cuba, but third base with the Astros had been claimed by rookie sensation Alex Bregman.
Borrowing the first baseman’s mitt of teammate Marwin Gonzalez, Gurriel started four games at the position. The Astros view March 2016 as an important spring training for their $47.5 million man, because it’s the first chance he’s gotten to dig in and learn the position over an extended period of time.
Gurriel, who preserved his rookie status by one at-bat in 2016, comes into this season expected to be the Astros’ primary first baseman. The team hopes his accomplished righthanded bat halts what has been a revolving door at the position in recent years.
“It’s a different side of the infield from what he’s used to, but he showed us last year I think that he’s very capable defensively,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Yulieski is still expected to garner some repetitions at third base this spring, especially when Bregman is absent to play in the World Baseball Classic. But ultimately, his main entry point is first base.
- In 2017 for the Astros, Gurriel played third base and first base.
- Yulieski is a fringe-average runner, a 45 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Feb. 28, 2018: Gurriel will have surgery to remove the hook of hamate bone in his left hand. He will be out 6 weeks.
- April 2-13, 2018: Yuli was placed on the 10-day disabled list.