Baseball’s most recent coveted international free agent is now playing for the Fresno Grizzlies.
Yulieski Gurriel, considered Cuba’s top player before defecting from the communist country this year, is making what appears to be a pit stop in Triple-A Fresno this week en route to the major leagues with the Houston Astros.
Though he struggled in Double A, Gurriel has started to warm up with the Grizzlies.
The 32-year-old infielder batted 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs as the Grizzlies’ designated hitter in his Triple-A debut Tuesday. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts Wednesday, but made strong contact twice and played clean defense while starting at third base.
Little by little, I feel closer to where we want to be as a group, and me personally where I want to be.
Grizzlies newcomer Yulieski Gurriel
“Little by little, I feel closer to where we want to be as a group, and me personally when I want to be,” Gurriel said through an translator. “Each league is very different. Each one has their own style of play.
“With each league, I tried to get accustomed to how people play. Right now, I’m getting accustomed to how the pitchers throw and how the game is played here.”
Gurriel last month signed a contract with the Astros worth $47.5 million over five years, rejecting pursuits from the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees and New York Mets.
$47.5 million Value of Yulieski Gurriel’s five-year contract signed last month with the Houston Astros
The Astros were trying to fast track Gurriel to the majors, with Houston in the playoff hunt and needing a spark. But that plan was altered after Gurriel struggled in the minor league lower levels.
Gurriel batted just 2 for 17 in five games with Double-A Corpus Christi. He was 8 for 21 with one home run and nine RBIs combined at Class-A Lancaster and with the rookie Gulf Coast League Astros.
“He definitely can handle it,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “It’s just getting acclimated to American baseball – the routine every day, the grind of it. Working out every day and getting himself stronger.
“With no spring training, he’s been sitting around for a few months. He just needs at-bats and to see different spins coming at him.”
In 15 seasons playing in foreign leagues, Yulieski Gurriel sported a .335 career average and a .997 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 5,491 plate appearances (4,725 at-bats).
Gurriel played professionally for 15 years in Cuba and one season in Japan. He has a career .335 average and .997 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 5,491 plate appearances (4,725 at-bats), and averaged 16.7 home runs and 61.7 games per season.
According to reports, Gurriel and his younger brother, Lourdes, defected from Cuba in February after the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic. But Gurriel had to establish residency in the United States before signing a contract because of a U.S. embargo that impacts any defector.
That prevented Gurriel from inking a deal until after the All-Star break.
Gurriel said he’s anxious to get to the majors but added he trusts the Astros.
“I can’t wait to get up there,” Gurriel said. “But I know this is part of the process, and I believe in the process.
“When I’m ready, I know I’ll be up there.”
Yulieski Gurriel file
- Birthplace: Sancti Spiritus, Cuba
- Age: 32 (June 9, 1984)
- Height/weight: 6-0/190
- Throws/bats: Right/right
- Positions: 2B, 3B
- Contract: Signed in July with Houston Astros for $47.5 million over five years
- Career highlights: Spent 15 years playing internationally (14 in Cuba, one season in Japan); 2004 Olympian with the Cuba National team; represented Cuba in three World Baseball Classic tournaments