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Astros: Yuli Gurriel fills longtime first base void

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 17: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros hits a home run in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 17, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 17: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros hits a home run in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 17, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TEXAS – AUGUST 28: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros receives a hug from Yordan Alvarez #44 after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on August 28, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – AUGUST 28: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros receives a hug from Yordan Alvarez #44 after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on August 28, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Gurriel and the Future

Gurriel became the team’s primary first baseman in 2017 and was a solid, if unspectacular contributor in his first two full seasons. He didn’t reach 20 homers in either season, but posted solid batting averages, hit 76 total doubles and was a decent run producer.

He’s stepped up his production this year, though, launching 12 homers in July and another seven in August. At age 35, he’s having a career season, and the Astros are finally enjoying having a first baseman who’s a big time threat at the plate.

As for the future, the job is probably Gurriel’s until he no longer warrants it. At his age, there’s no telling how long he can sustain this level of production, or even remain a productive hitter. But he’s earned some leeway and should keep the job at least through next season.

Seth Beer had been viewed as the first baseman of the future, but he was shipped to Arizona in the Zack Greinke trade. He hit .299/.407/.543 with 16 homers in 63 games for Double-A Corpus Christi before the trade. Interestingly, he hit just .205/.297/.318 with one homer in 24 games for Arizona’s Double-A club following the trade.

Options coming up the pipeline include Triple-A first baseman Taylor Jones. He’s currently ranked as the team’s No. 28 prospect and hit .291/.388/.501 with 22 homers in 125 games this season and is noted as a quality defender at first base.

The Double-A club has a pair of young first basemen. J.J. Matijevic was drafted in 2017 with a pick the Astros got from St. Louis as punishment for the hacking scandal. He hit .246/.314/.423 with nine homers in 73 games for Corpus Christi this season but served his second suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse.

Matijevic tends to generate high exit velocities, so his value is going to depend on whether he can parlay that into big time power numbers. At age 23, he’s still a ways away from the majors and may not be ready until 2021. He’s currently ranked as the team’s No. 18 prospect.

Jake Adams hit 22 homers combined between Class-A Advanced and Double-A this season, so the 2017 sixth round pick deserves mention. He still has work to do with his contact rate and plate discipline, however, and isn’t listed among the team’s Top 30 prospects.

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So for the time being, Gurriel is the guy. It’s possible Yordan Alvarez could be made into a first baseman at some point, but he’s yet to play the position at all in the major leagues. For the foreseeable future, the Astros will hope Gurriel continues to mash like he has this season.

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