Post Cuba: O' Brothers, Where Start Thou?

Yulieski Gurriel said to be MLB-ready; Lourdes a highly regarded prospect

February 9th, 2016

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Two top players from the most famous baseball family in Cuba are not expected to return to the island.
Brothers Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, defected from Cuba's Ciego de Avila team following the Caribbean Series that concluded Sunday in order to seek contracts with Major League teams, according to sources. Lourdes is considered the top prospect in Cuba while his brother is considered the country's best player.
Both have repeatedly expressed a desire to leave the island legally and with the permission of the Cuban government.
Their defection was first reported by Miami's El Nuevo Herald. It was confirmed by Granma, the Communist Party newspaper in Cuba that serves as an outlet for official government statements, according to The Associated Press.
Yulieski Gurriel, one of Cuba's most celebrated and decorated players, is considered to be Major League-ready and could possibly make it to the Majors this season. The infielder was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He's been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.
Gurriel Jr., who plays shortstop and outfield, was hitting .321 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs and a .924 OPS in 43 games for the Havana Industriales this season. A good runner with a good glove, he could project as a center fielder and can also play shortstop. He's comparable to Buddy Reed from the University of Florida, who is expected to be a top 15 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.
Yulieski projects to hit .285 with 15-18 home runs and 85 RBIs. He can play second base, third base and shortstop. He's a clutch gamer with some pop, a more fluid and athletic Jeff Kent.
The brothers -- whose surname had previously been spelled Gourriel but appeared as Gurriel during the Caribbean Series -- are the youngest members of the first family of baseball in Cuba.
Oldest brother Yunieski, 33, won two MVP Awards during his 16 seasons in Serie Nacional. In addition to his Cuban league play, Yunieski spent the past two seasons playing for Quebec in the Canadian-American Association. Their father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., played for the national team for 15 years and won a gold medal, two batting titles and an MVP Award in Cuba. He was also a national team manager.
The brothers also had an uncle, great uncle and cousin who starred in Cuba.
Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons are exempt from the international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to sign with a big league club. Cuban players who leave the island and go directly to the United States are subject to the signing guidelines of the MLB Draft.
Lourdes has played six seasons in Cuba and won't be 23 until October. It could take several months for him to become eligible to sign with a Major League club. He will not be subject to the guidelines if he signs after he turns 23, and therefore stands to have more leverage if he signs after his birthday.
Defection -- either abandoning a national team during an international tournament or escaping Cuba to ports in Haiti or Mexico -- has traditionally been the only way for players to make it to the big leagues since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Because of the U.S. embargo, any defector who wants to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the U.S. Players must also petition MLB for free agency before they can enter into a contract with a Major League club.
Those processes can take several months. It's possible the Gurriels will be declared free agents before the All-Star break, after they complete their paperwork.