Examining Lourdes Gurriel’s Role With Toronto Blue Jays

 

Jays From the Couch digs in deep to bring you a look at the player the Toronto Blue Jays just signed for 7yrs: Lourdes Gurriel Jr

 

 

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On Friday, the Blue Jays made easily the two biggest free agent splashes of the young offseason, signing 1B/DH Kendry Morales to a three-year deal and Lourdes Yunielki Castillo Gurriel (or Gourriel) to a seven-year pact. Morales has already been covered here extensively, so today we’ll look at Lourdes Gurriel, who ranked 6th among the Top-20 Cuban prospects as of this April according to Baseball America.

 

Gurriel signed a seven-year, $22-million deal (AAV ~3.14 M) after playing six seasons in the Cuban National Series from ages 16-21. You’ll no doubt recognize the Gurriel surname as one of the Cuban baseball superfamilies, as his father received international stardom winning Gold in the 1992 Olympics after playing two decades in Cuba and with the National team – which he now manages. Lourdes Junior’s older brother Yunieski, with whom he defected with in February, also signed with the Astros last summer for five years and $47.5 Million. Yulieski seemed to adjust well enough to life in the MLB, batting .262/.292/.385 in his first season with 3 HR and 15 RBI over 36 games, after playing just 13 in the minor leagues.

 

Lourdes, though, waited to sign until after his 23rd birthday on October 19th of this year. By waiting, the money used to sign him doesn’t count against the Blue Jays international bonus pool. Gurriel Jr. was declared a free agent by MLB in August 2016, six months after defecting with his brother the day after completing the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic. While most teams already had a good idea what his brother looked like, Lourdes Jr. held public and private workouts through September and October before signing with the Blue Jays on November 12th.

 

The Blue Jays must have been impressed with the 6’4″, 205 lb Gurriel Jr., though, as reports came out that he exhibited positional versatility both in the infield and outfield, his ability to run and his long-term potential as a hitter. As a hitter, Gurriel Jr. impressed in the Cuban league over six seasons:

Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Sancti Spiritus CNS 16 16 15 2 3 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 4 0.2 0.25 0.4 0.650
Sancti Spiritus CNS 55 151 132 24 30 6 0 3 16 2 2 13 23 0.227 0.304 0.341 0.645
Sancti Spiritus CNS 67 244 217 25 55 12 3 4 32 1 0 18 35 0.253 0.318 0.392 0.710
Industriales CNS 45 184 142 26 31 6 1 1 17 5 5 36 23 0.218 0.379 0.296 0.675
Industriales CNS 63 258 221 36 68 11 0 8 42 7 4 28 28 0.308 0.388 0.466 0.854
Industriales CNS 59 245 218 43 75 17 0 10 53 8 3 21 23 0.344 0.407 0.56 0.967
305 1098 945 156 262 52 4 27 161 23 15 117 136 0.277 0.362 0.426 0.788

 

Gradually, Gurriel Jr. saw increases in batting average, power, run production and on-base skills through the years. His strikeout rate for the Cuban league is excellent at just 12.3%, and he’s never struck out more than 35 times in 67 games. With a BB% of 10.7%, he seems to bring a decent eye to the plate as well.  While the power doesn’t stick out right away, keep in mind he’s quite a ways from filling out his 6’4″ frame, and is already capable of hitting like this:

 

So, chances are Gurriel can swing the bat well enough to play, at minimum, as a utility guy in the major leagues. And at $3-Million a year, that’s not so bad. Gurriel has played extensively at both SS and LF, and reports from his showcase in September mention Gurriel the younger also has a strong arm from both the outfield and up the middle infield. But can he play the field? Well, it would seem so:

 

 

Here, Gurriel ranges well into the gap in left-center field, leaving his feet for an impressive vertical and coming down with a hard line drive. While I wouldn’t dare place a high grade on his fielding from one video, this short clip shows good vision, an efficient route and hand-eye coordination, as well as a fair amount of speed. This may bode well for the young man as the departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders has freed a pair of corner OF slots at the big league level, and the corner OF depth in the Jays system is undesirable.

 

Where does Gurriel fit into the Blue Jays future?

 

While the Blue Jays are currently comfortable up the middle with Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis and Kevin Pillar, two of the three are injury-prone, and the third is flanked in the outfield by question marks going into the 2016 season. The departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders have left the corner outfield positions up for grabs to a combination of Ezequiel Carrera, Dalton Pompey and Melvin Upton. With Upton leaving after 2017 and Carrera/Pompey more suited for a fourth outfielder role, it’s more than plausible that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. may be roaming LF and spelling the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis by Opening Day 2018. That being said, Gurriel is reportedly going to start his Blue Jays career at Double-A New Hampshire, playing SS:

 

 

Which is fine, especially considering the coaching staff at New Hampshire includes manager Bobby Meacham, who played a defense-first SS in his six-year MLB career.

 

What is telling of this signing is the current management’s commitment to turn the Blue Jays into a more dynamic team. It’s a bit too early to tell, some might consider Gurriel Jr. a potential five-tool prospect. While he may or may not pan out as such, it shows that the team is serious about getting younger and acquiring diverse talent, and doing so without reducing the talent on the big league depth chart. The signing also goes along with the recent trend in the Blue Jays pursuit of bloodlines, with sons of ex-pros Cavan Biggio, Dante Bichette, Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all joining the system in the past year.

 

When to Expect Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. in Toronto

 

If all goes well, we might be seeing Gurriel, Jr. in The Bigs before too long. He’ll start this spring in Double-A New Hampshire where he’ll get his first taste of the American game and will likely see Triple-A Buffalo before the end of the season. Fortunately for Gurriel, there remains few roadblocks for him to overcome. While Richard Urena is likely the future at SS, he’s probably a couple years away, and I’m sure the Blue Jays brass is not eager to watch 300 combined starts from Ezequiel Carrera, Melvin Upton and Dalton Pompey over the next two seasons.

 

It’s a great sign, but there are still holes to be filled on the 2017 Blue Jays roster. Still, the total cost combined between Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Kendrys Morales is barely more than what Jose Bautista made in 2016, so there’s likely more  moves to be made, even though some of the most exciting may have already happened.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC

 

 

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Roy-Z

Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.