We’re reviewing all 316 players to appear in Houston’s system through 2022.
Yuli Gurriel is a six-foot, 215 lb. right-handed first baseman from Sancti Spiritis, Cuba. Born on June 9, 1984, Gurriel’s path to the majors was a little different than most. He’s been playing in the Cuban League and international competition since 2001, when at the age of 17 he hit .300 with a .782 OPS over 376 plate appearances. He played with the Cuban team until 2016.
It was February in 2016 when Gurriel, along with his brother, Lourdes Jr., defected while playing the Dominican Republic. Gurriel met then-future Astro Yordan Alvarez in June. On July 18, Gurriel, then 32, signed with the Astros for five years and $47.5 million. Alvarez, who at the time was 19, signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in July.
Gurriel made his major league debut with the Astros a month later, and has been in the starting lineup pretty constantly since. Prior to the 2022 season, he hit .294/.337/.467 with 86 home runs and 382 RBI through his first 655 regular season games. He finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, then in 2021, he led the American League by hitting .319. He also won his first Gold Glove at first base.
The 2022 campaign started a little slow for Gurriel. He was hitting under .200 as late as May 11, and struggled to match the high he had so recently set. He had multiple hits in 35 of his team-third 146 games, and three hits in eight of them.
By far, Gurriel’s highest positive impact of the season was on September 24 in an 11-10 win against the Baltimore Orioles. After starting the game 0-for-3, he came to the plate in the eighth, trailing 7-6 with two out and a runner on first, then hit an RBI-double to tie the score. In the ninth, again with two outs, tied 9-9 with two runners in scoring position, he drove them both home for an 11-9 lead.
Through the season, Gurriel slashed .242/.288/.360. He finished the year with an 84 OPS+, and a .647 OPS that was 199 points lower than in 2021. He hit eight home runs with 53 RBI and stole eight bases without getting caught. He drew 30 walks and struck out 73 times. Defensively, he played 1226 1⁄3 innings at first base, and managed a .996 fielding percentage. That was a point better than in 2021, but his advanced defensive metrics show he was six-runs below the “average” first baseman. Still, we all know he’s an expert “scooper.”
When the postseason rolled around, Gurriel found another level. He went 17-for-49 for a .347 average and struck out just once in 50 plate appearances. He hit safely in 10 of his 12 games, including five multiple hit affairs. In Houston’s 18-inning, 1-0 Game Three victory over the Seattle Mariners, he went three-for-eight with a stolen base. In his final appearance, in Game Five of the World Series, he started off with a double but had to be removed when he got caught in a rundown between third and home with a sprained right MCL. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins also kneed him in the head.
Nevertheless, Gurriel won his second ring, and despite what everyone says, they both count. I’m in danger of going down an editorial rabbit-hole, so I’ll just leave it at that.
There’s question as to whether Gurriel will be back in 2023. Currently a free agent, Gurriel proved he still has something to show with his postseason production. If the Astros don’t sign him, someone will offer him a deal, despite his age. Still, I hope Houston signs him to a one-year contract for whatever the two parties agree on — somewhere between $6.5 and $8.5 million. Fangraphs estimates his value through his career to this point is worth $82.2 million, and Houston has only paid him $64 million, so I guess you could say they owe him that much.