The Houston Astros are among several major league teams interested in signing the 32-year old Cuban star, Yulieski Gourriel.
The 6′ 0″ 195 lb. infielder has become the latest in a long line of potential MLB-ready stars to defect from Cuba in search of a big league contract. In recent memory, there have been several players that have defected from Cuba, making a giant splash in the MLB free agency market.
Just to name a few: Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Fernandez and Jose Abreu are all making significant differences for their respective clubs. Yulieski Gourriel could be next, and it is time to wonder when, or if, the Astros should begin to pursue these highly touted prospects when they become available.
What exactly could Gourriel bring to a big league club? He has the potential to be a 25 home run guy in the middle of a major league lineup. Over 15 years spent in the Cuban National Series and the Japan Central League, Gourriel averaged about 17 home runs and 68 runs batted in. Keep in mind that while on the Cuban National team, he was only playing about 75-85 games a year. Over that span, he also had a slash line of .335/.417/.580, which would be perennial all-star/potential MVP numbers if he were able to slash that well in the MLB.
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Gourriel’s fielding has been up and down throughout his career. In his career, he has spent most of his time at third base. In the nine seasons that have his fielding stats available, Gourriel has a fielding percentage of .951, which would illustrate him as a below average fielder. In 2015, the league average for fielding percentage among qualifying third basemen was .961. Although he has shown flashes of brilliance with the leather at times, his defensive work has been inconsistent.
What Gourriel could do for the Astros specifically could be an extremely well-timed shot in the arm for a team that is ten games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West division. He could fill a hole that the Astros have tried to fill for a couple of years now at the corner infield position.
With Tyler White and A.J. Reed not producing as the team may have hoped at this point in the season, it may be time to start exploring other options in those positions. If the Astros were to sign Gourriel, it could be that he would play third base and Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez would become a platoon at first base. However, Alex Bregman‘s quick rise to change things as well.
Gourriel has worked out for a few teams around the league for a couple of weeks now and we are probably getting close to seeing where he ends up in a matter of days. He has already worked out for the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as showing interested in the New York Yankees. Gourriel has made inquiries about the Yankees organization through a fellow Cuban defector, and current closer for the club, Aroldis Chapman. It is also rumored that he is leaning in favor of the Dodgers due to some pictures of him in some LA gear.
Judging from what some of the other players in his same situation have received and from the hype surrounding him; it is possible that Gourriel could sign a multi-year deal worth about $12 million/year. If he has the potential to be the spark that sends this team to the AL west crown à la the 2015 Rangers, then it may be worth it for the Astros to make a run at signing him.
**Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com**