BALTIMORE -- It was a dream more than 15 years -- plus nearly five hours -- in the making, but borders and politics always stood in the way. Yulieski Gurriel, at 32 years old, knew he was running short on time if he wanted to reach the pinnacle of the
BALTIMORE -- It was a dream more than 15 years -- plus nearly five hours -- in the making, but borders and politics always stood in the way. Yulieski Gurriel, at 32 years old, knew he was running short on time if he wanted to reach the pinnacle of the sport and play in the big leagues, which is why he took a chance and defected from Cuba with his brother earlier this year.
Gurriel, who defected following the Caribbean Series in February and signed with the Astros in July for $47.5 million, finally stepped onto a Major League field Sunday and made an immediate impact. He singled in his first at-bat and finished 1-for-2 with a walk before leaving with a strained right hamstring in the Astros' 5-3 win over the Orioles. He's day to day.
"This is a dream of mine for years, and not only for me to make it, but a Cuban player to make it into the big leagues, is a big deal," he said through a translator before the game. "I'm just going to be very excited."
Gurriel and the Astros waited out two separate rain delays -- the first over four hours before the first pitch -- before Gurriel's first at-bat. Gurriel worked the count to 3-1 in the second inning before singling to center off Yovani Gallardo for his first Major League hit.
"I was very excited, obviously, stepping to the plate, but I was able to control my emotions and stay focused on the task at hand," Gurriel said.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch has been peppered with questions about Gurriel for weeks, and was finally able to write his name in the lineup card.
"I thought he was good," Hinch said. "He was very calm for his Major League debut. I don't care how you are or how many games you've played professionally in any country. Your first big league at-bat is a challenge to get through emotionally. I thought the swing was very good. Obviously, getting a hit out of the way was nice, getting a walk was nice. Unfortunately he came out with right hamstring tightness. He'll be day to day. He could have stayed in the game, but I wasn't going to take any risk with the way the weather was and this being his first day."
The Astros will be excited if Gurriel can provide their offense the kind of offensive numbers he produced as one of Cuba's top players. Gurriel joins a young Astros clubhouse that features young Latin stars José Altuve and Carlos Correa, but Gurriel can't be considered a rookie, though he technically is. He won two MVP Awards during his 16 seasons in Serie Nacional. In addition to his Cuban league play, Gurriel spent the past two seasons playing for Quebec in the Canadian-American Association.
"I'm looking forward to having him, because I think he can help us," Hinch said before Sunday's game. "This is the one test in his whole life he has never answered. He has played at every level in the world and been on the center stage and been one of the best international players for a long time. The challenge will be difficult for him. He'll feel like a rookie again, and he's joining a pretty fun group that will be able to support him, but I'm anxious to get him in our uniform and our lineup and see what he's got."
Hinch said he'll play Gurriel some in left field and perhaps even first base as the season progresses, though it's going to be hard for the manager to put Gurriel at third base considering how well rookie Alex Bregman has played there. Of course, Gurriel is here for his bat more than anything else.
"He doesn't have to define this team," Hinch said. "He doesn't have to be Superman, or try to carry this team. He's a piece of what we're doing. He's joining a good team that's played well over the last couple of days. He needs to fit in more than anything, and part of it is going to be my job to keep him comfortable in the positions we're going to ask him to play. Some of the other guys are doing pretty well, so I'll defend those guys in the lineup."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Having notched video-game stats (.500 average, 15 homers, 51 RBIs, 55 runs across 224 plate appearance) in Cuba during the 2015 season, Gurriel should be picked up in all fantasy leagues following his quick 15-game stint in the Astros' farm system. The 32-year-old expectedly cooled off after joining affiliated Minor League ball, but he nonetheless has the skills to contribute a solid average with plus power as a regular on a Houston club vying for the postseason.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.