International Baseball Star to Begin U.S. Career in Dunedin
By JOHN GREGG, Correspondent, TB Reporter
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. signed a seven-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays last November and was assigned to Dunedin on March 17.
DUNEDIN – One of the top international free agent signings from last winter will begin his American professional career with the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays this Thursday (April 6) when Florida State League play begins.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was inked to a seven-year, $22-million deal by the Toronto Blue Jays last November and was assigned to Dunedin on March 17. He, along with his older brother, Yulieski Gurriel, defected from Cuba in February of 2016 after the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic.
It had long been speculated that the Gurriels were off limits to major league scouts given the loyalty of their father, Lourdes Sr.. to the Cuban Communist party and his status as a baseball icon in Cuba. Now a little more than a year after defecting, Lourdes Jr. will begin his path to the major leagues in the Tampa Bay area where he hopes to join his brother, now the starting first baseman for the Houston Astros.
Gurriel last played for Industriales in the Cuban National Series during the 2015-16 season where he hit a robust 344/.407/.560 in 245 plate appearances. Over a six year career in CNS, which began with Sancti Spíritus when he was 16, he had a .277 career batting average in 305 games. He logged most of his innings at second base, but also played first base, shortstop and left field. Indeed it Gurriel’s ability to play multiple positions well that made him such an enticing player for major league teams when he hit the free agent market.
The scouting book on Gurriel is pretty unimanous. He has the physical tools to play all over the field, with an above average arm and passable mobility. He struggled some against live pitching in scouting showcases, but was a high contact hitter with good strike zone judgement in Cuba. Some scouts also believe he has the potential to hit 20 home runs a year in the big leagues.
As with all Cuban defectors, the question is how his game will translate in the U.S. His path to the major leagues would be quicker as an outfielder, which is an easier position to acclimate to, but the Blue Jays appear intent on giving him a look at shortstop. Still only 23, Gurriel still has room to grow as a player, but his assignment to Dunedin should be viewed more as a chance for him to shake off the rust and get acclimated to playing in live games again before moving on to the Double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
With his experience playing professionally in Cuba and against top international competition with the Cuban National team, his stay in Dunedin will likely not be a long one and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him playing a reserve role with the big club in Toronto by September.
Photo of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.
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