WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The transformation continues on a positive path for Cuban Yulieski Gurriel, who looks to make a name for himself on a new team, in a new country, and at a new position on the diamond.The 32-year-old defected in February 2016 and signed a five-year, $47.5
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The transformation continues on a positive path for Cuban Yulieski Gurriel, who looks to make a name for himself on a new team, in a new country, and at a new position on the diamond.
The 32-year-old defected in February 2016 and signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Astros in July, just in time to play five games at first base for his new team last season. His intentions for this season are on making the switch from third base to first base a full-time thing.
"He's been good," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the transition. "We had Jeff Bagwell in here last week. I think that was good for him to get a little bit of feedback from a Hall of Famer. And he's just adapting to some of the intricacies of the position -- foot placement, tags, positioning."
In Friday's 5-4 win over the Braves, Gurriel made a key play that might have seemed routine for a regular first baseman, but was an outstanding move from a guy still learning the position. Gurriel gloved a hard-hit ball near the bag, stepped on first base, and had the wherewithal to turn and throw to second, completing a nifty double play that helped starter Dallas Keuchel get out of early trouble.
"That's very standard operation in the big leagues," Hinch said. "For him, he'd never really done it. So instincts for him, coming over to first base from third base, are always going to be a work in progress because it's such a new position, but he handles the glove very well.
"He's an infielder, so I don't have any concern whatsoever with his feet or with his glove work. It's just repetition at an angle that he's not used to."
From a baseball readiness standpoint, Gurriel had an entire offseason to prepare himself for a 162-game schedule.
"He's been tremendous in Cuba up to this point, and I thought he played really well down the stretch last season," Hinch said. "Obviously he got a little bit tired at the end but I think we'll see a strong contributor on a good team."
From an acclimation standpoint, Hinch said he feels the Astros are probably the perfect team for Gurriel given their strong Latin core.
"Knowing his teammates coming in, having a little bit of experience with most of the guys in the room, has been a big advantage for him," Hinch said. "He looks more comfortable."
That's been helpful in Gurriel settling into his role on this talented team.
"He knows coming in that he doesn't have to wow people, he just has to be a good player," Hinch said. "I think his comfort level inside our clubhouse will help him be comfortable from a baseball standpoint."
Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Astros on Saturday.