Astros ink deal with Cuban star Y. Gurriel
The Astros have signed free-agent infielder Yulieski Gurriel to a deal, introducing the star from Cuba at a news conference on Saturday.
Gurriel, 32, was declared a free agent on June 13. In addition to the Astros, he also had private workouts for the Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Padres and Yankees during the past month.
"I'm very content," said Gurriel, through a translator. "I've waited a long time for this day. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy it's Houston, and that I'm arriving to this part in my life that's so exciting."
Gurriel, who defected from Cuba after the Caribbean Series in February with his younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. -- a top outfield prospect -- has been training in Miami. He's projected to need 50 or 60 at-bats in the Minors. He could be in the big leagues sometime in early August.
"I don't know [how quickly it will take for him to get to the Majors]," said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. "We have to go through the process with the State Department of getting a worker's visa -- and that has a certain timeframe associated with [it]. But I will tell you something that I was impressed with when I went to Miami to work out Yulieski a few weeks ago, [it] was how well he's maintained himself. ... He's in great baseball shape. Now, obviously, you've got to see live pitching in order to be ready to face Major League pitching. ... We'll figure out a way to accelerate that process."
Yulieski is considered one of the most celebrated players from Cuba. He was an Olympian in 2004, and represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He was part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.
The veteran infielder, who can play second base and third base, projects to hit .285 with 15-18 home runs and 85 RBIs in the big leagues. He's been described as a more fluid and athletic Jeff Kent. Yulieski hit .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs, 20 doubles and 51 RBIs in 49 games for the Industriales in 2015.
Lourdes, 22, who played six seasons in Cuba, won't be 23 until October. He will not be subject to international signing pool guidelines if he signs after he turns 23, and therefore stands to have more leverage if he signs after his birthday, because teams would not have to use money from their international bonus pool to sign him.
Their surname had previously been spelled Gourriel before the family changed the spelling less than two years ago, Yulieski told MLB.com earlier this year.
Lourdes, who plays shortstop and outfield, was hitting .321 with eight home runs, 32 RBIs and a .924 OPS in 43 games for the Havana Industriales when he defected. He has not yet been declared a free agent.
Gurriel's immediate role on the Astros is a little bit unclear. José Altuve is entrenched at second base in Houston for years to come, and Alex Bregman, the club's top prospect, was just moved from shortstop to third base in the Minors in deference to current shortstop Carlos Correa, who is also not going anywhere. Many thought that Bregman would take over at third for Luis Valbuena, who is eligible for free agency this winter, in 2017. The signing of Gurriel clouds the picture a little bit, but it's possible the Astros see him as a super-utility type who could get regular at-bats filling in at third base, second base, and even left field.
"[Getting a chance to make the Majors] just has no description," said Gurriel. "I've played on the international stage, I've had the opportunity to play in Japan. There's really nothing in baseball that I haven't had the opportunity to see and do. This is the last thing -- to play Major League baseball here -- and it's impossible to describe."