The signing of Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel has thrust the Astros to the front of the pack of contenders to sign his 22 year-old brother, Lourdes Gurriel Castillo Jr. So, following the interest in last edition’s poll, as well as the announcement that MLB has declared him a free agent, this time in La Pelota Cubana we will scout Lourdes Jr. and examine what skills he brings to the table as well has his projection and comparison to other players who have left the island.
**Please note that foreign rate statistics will be presented as is, while counting stats will be presented along with a pro-rated 162 game total in parentheses ()**
Serie Nacional Performance
Lourdes Jr. broke into the Serie Nacional at the tender age of 16 in Serie Nacional 50 in 2010. Playing as a utility infielder for the Gallos of Santi Spíritus, Gurriel appeared in 16 games split between 2B and SS sporting a .200/.250/.400 line in a meagre 15 at-bats.
The next season, Gurriel found himself in the lineup much more. He showed his positional versatility, playing 55 games for the Gallos spread across 1B, 2B, SS, LF, CF, and RF, but struggled at the plate, hitting only .227/.304/.341 with 3 HR (9), 16 RBI (47), and 2 SB (6). Over the course of the next two seasons, Lourdes continued in his role as a super-utility player, playing all over the diamond but generally not shining at the plate, batting .253/.318/.392 and .218/.379/.296 respectively.
Through his first 4 seasons in Cuba, then, Lourdes looked to be more his brother Yunieski that Yulieski: a versatile player with a decent glove and a relatively weak bat, and certainly not a future star. But his final two seasons seemed to show a different player. Lourdes opened his age 20 season in Serie Nacional 54 not only making significantly more contact, but also driving the ball far more often both into the gaps and out of the ballpark. He surged to a .308/.388/.466 line with 8 HR (20), 42 RBI (108), while lashing 11 2B (28) and even swiping 7 (18) bases. The surge continued in Serie Nacional 55, with Lourdes displaying even more power and establishing himself as arguably Industriales’ second best player behind his brother Yulieski. In his final season in Cuba, Lourdes posted a .344/.407/.560 line, hit 10 HR (27), drove in 53 (145) runs and stole 8 (21) bases all while splitting fielding duties across 2B, SS, 3B and LF.
Projection and Comparison
The projection for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and ultimately the amount of money which a team is willing to give to him will depend on the extent to which they believe that his final two seasons for Industriales are: a) sustainable (or perhaps improveable) as his career continues, and b) translatable at the MLB level.
The question of sustainability is critical, because our evaluation of Gurriel, whether he is a star in waiting, or just a decent to good player, depends critically on how we perceive his uptick over the final two seasons. If we take Gurriel’s overall line while playing the Serie Nacional, .277/.362/.426, and look to compare him to other players who played for a comparable amount of time (around 5 years) at a comparable age (16-21), we may find favorable comparisons to players such as Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Díaz, Tigers shortstop José Iglesias or Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar. Each of these players has been valuable at the major league level, and their level of production, combined with Lourdes’ positional versatility would make him a very useful ball player and one many teams would be interested in signing. On the other hand, if we put more weight on Gurriel’s final two seasons, in which he batted a combined .325/.381/.513, we instead find comparisons with players such as Yoenis Céspedes, Yasiel Puig, or his older brother, Yulieski.
The question of the translatability of his skills is always a difficult one to answer. Enough players have departed the island and gone one to success at the major league level that it is clear that Serie production can translate at the big league level, but likewise, enough players have failed to reproduce their performance in Cuba to know that it need not always. In watching Gurriel play as the starting left fielder for Ciego de Ávila during this year’s Serie del Caribe, Lourdes struggled against the AA~AAA~AAAA caliber pitchers of the tournament, but since this represented a meager 5 game sample, I’m inclined to trust more to his Serie Nacional performance.
All in on Gurriels?
The decision to sign Lourdes is not as easy from a pure baseball perspective as the decision to sign Yulieski. Although there are concerns about contract length or monetary commitment, there are little doubts about Yulieski’s skills or his ability to perform against high level competition. With Lourdes’, his age and versatility make the contract a less risky proposition, but it remains to be seen if he can perform at a major league level. Ultimately, I would liken Lourdes’ to the kinds of players who tend to be drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. He’s young and talented but far from a sure thing. In signing him, the Astros would effectively be using money to buy themselves an extra shot at a first round-type player. For the right price, it’s probably a risk worth taking.
In the next installment, we’ll begin a several part series about differences in play between MLB and Cuba, and, as always, I welcome questions in the comments.