KANSAS CITY -- Yuli Gurriel has taken to first base so well that Astros manager AJ Hinch said on Saturday that he's played at a "Gold Glove caliber" level. One of Gurriel's biggest improvements has been scooping balls out of the dirt, something he's done with perfection this year.Gurriel leads
KANSAS CITY -- Yuli Gurriel has taken to first base so well that Astros manager AJ Hinch said on Saturday that he's played at a "Gold Glove caliber" level. One of Gurriel's biggest improvements has been scooping balls out of the dirt, something he's done with perfection this year.
Gurriel leads the Majors in scoop percentage in having successfully caught all 21 throws that bounced in front of him at first base this year -- prior to Saturday's game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Hinch said Gurriel's defense has been a very underrated part of his game.
"He's been very good around the bag," Hinch said. "He's the best in the league at picking balls, at least the most successful, I know that. His athleticism from being on the left side of the diamond his whole life has translated well to first base. He's done a lot of work starting last season and into this year to learn the little nuances of first base and all the responsibility. The progress has been incredible and his performance this year has been the best in the league."
Gurriel was a star third baseman for more than a decade in Cuba before defecting to the U.S. in 2016 and eventually signing with the Astros. With Alex Bregman an up-and-coming star at third base and Carlos Correa the same at shortstop, the Astros moved Gurriel to first base -- a position of need at the time.
Hinch said Gurriel works routinely on fielding balls in the dirt, which is something he struggled with at times last year. Also, playing first base for the Astros is a little more challenging considering the amount of shifts the team employs, which means Gurriel sometimes plays well off the bag.
"He's got great hands and that's from being a third baseman and shortstop," Hinch said. "He's saved more than one error."
Eric Hosmer, the former Royals star who's won four of the last five American League Gold Glove Awards at first base, is now in the National League with the Padres, so Gurriel may have a shot at a Gold Glove. Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox is among those considered one of the best defensive first baseman in the AL.
Gattis locked in at DH
Evan Gattis' torrid month at the plate has made it harder for Hinch to give other players some at-bats at designated hitter. Not that Hinch is complaining, but he hasn't been able to use the DH spot to get players like Gurriel, Jose Altuve and George Springer off their feet on occasion.
Gattis has started 14 consecutive games at DH and 20 of the previous 21 through Saturday. Gattis entered Saturday hitting .303 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs in 28 games since May 12.
"The more productive that Gattis is, the less likely I am to DH the other guys and even give them full days off," Hinch said. "As he's gotten better and more productive, it's been hard to get rest for our other guys. For all the right reasons. It became a challenge, but Gattis stepped up and has a taken the at-bats the way he should."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.