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Feeling “a ton better” than last season, Yuli Gurriel will face a key year in his career

The Astros need Gurriel at the top of his game this time and he needs the same to make them exercise his club option for 2022.

American League Championship Series Game 4: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Yuli Gurriel was one of the hitters that had an off year in 2020 for the Astros. After an acceptable first month of the shortened season, the Cuban fell off the earth and finished his regular campaign with a .232/.274/.384 slash line that made people wonder if it was a product of being 36 years old.

However, right before the postseason, the Astros handed Gurriel a contract extension that he didn’t hesitate to sign. Now with only one guaranteed season left in his contract and one club option for 2022, he will face a key season for him personally and collectively.

The Astros are hoping that their first baseman will be able to regain his 2019 shape. Two years ago, he was among the team’s best hitters, thanks to 40 doubles, 31 home runs, 104 runs batted in, and a .298/.343/.541 slash line. During the offseason, Gurriel did his part to try to make that happen.

“I worked a lot in the offseason on being in better physical condition. I feel a ton better physically in comparison to where I was at last year,” Gurriel said. The biggest difference is I had the ability and the time to train physically, which I didn’t have last year because of the pandemic. Basically, two weeks after the [2020] season ended, I was beginning my physical training this offseason. I had a lot of time to get ready physically.”

The soon-to-be 37-year-old, who reported to camp 15 pounds lighter, will face both personal and collective responsibilities in ‘21. In the first aspect, he’ll need to overcome his 2020 season and convince the Astros to exercise his club option to come back next year. Another challenge for Yuli is to avoid losing playing time to youngsters such as Abraham Toro or Taylor Jones, who is expected to be the first baseman for Houston in the long term.

Collectively, the Astros need Gurriel more than ever before. For the team, having him at the top of his game would be a pain reliever after losing George Springer in free agency.

Before joining Houston workouts, Yuli had been often seen getting ready with his brothers Lourdes Jr. and Yuniesky. In the following picture, the three Gurriel appear next to former Cuban pitcher Maels Rodríguez:

Gurriel admitted he was “pretty exhausted” in September. And that’s something you can notice by taking a look at his split stats:

August: .305/.346/.558/.904, 10 2Bs, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs, 25 Gms

September: .154/.168/.209/.377, 2 2Bs, 1 HR, 8 RBIs, 25 Gms

Fortunately, there is nothing in Gurriel’s advanced stats to be worried about him. He was the same hitter last year as he was in 2019 and even was as difficult to strike out as always (84.4 contact%). So there’s a good chance that the Sancti Spiritus native won’t repeat his awful ‘20.