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Yulieski Gurriel

From BR Bullpen

Yuliesky Gourriel 2013 WBC.jpg

Yulieski Gurriel Castillo
also listed as Yulieski Gourriel
(Yuli)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 0", Weight 196 lbs.

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Yulieski Gurriel, often called simply Yuli, is the son of long-time Cuban star Lourdes Gourriel Sr., who has managed Yulieski in the Cuban Serie Nacional. His brothers are Yuniesky Gourriel and Lourdes Gourriel Jr. and his uncle is Luis Enrique Gourriel, all of them former teammates on Sancti Spiritus. He is also the great-nephew of José R. Delgado and cousin of Yoannys Delgado. While his father spelled his last named "Gourriel", Yulieski stated in 2014 that he preferred the spelling "Gurriel".

Gourriel was a back-up to Michel Enriquez at 3B for Cuba in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup. He was 0 for 3 with a run. In the 2003 Baseball World Cup, Gourriel batted .358/.400/.789 with 5 doubles, 3 homers, 9 runs and 13 RBI in 9 games to help Cuba win the title. He was error-free in 23 chances at second base. Daisuke Kusano beat him out as the All-Star 2B. He was also a member of Gold Medal Winning Cuban team at the 2004 Olympics.

He led the 2005 Baseball World Cup with 8 homers and was second to Michel Enriquez with 19 RBI. He hit .319/.385/.894 with 12 runs in 11 games. Joey Votto was second in home runs, three behind Gourriel. He made the All-Tournament Team. He was the star of the Cuban National Team which lost in the final of the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, Gourriel hit .300/.344/.467 and led the tourney with 9 runs in 7 games. He also drove in 7. He batted .389/.381/.500 in the 2006 Intercontinental Cup with 10 runs and 8 RBI in 9 games. In the 2006 qualifiers for the 2008 Olympics, Gourriel batted .314/.400/.743 with 4 HR and 12 RBI in 9 games. He was second to Alexander Mayeta in RBI and tied for the lead with five others in home runs in the tournament.

Gourriel hit .278/.364/.444 as Cuba's #3 hitter and third baseman in the 2007 Pan-American Games. He hit one of the three homers for the Gold Medal winners. He batted .275/.341/.525 in the 2007 Baseball World Cup as Cuba failed to win Gold for the first time in decades. Gourriel cracked 3 homers for the Silver Medalists, tying Mike Saunders, Justin Ruggiano, Andy LaRoche and Chia-Hsien Hsieh for the tournament lead in circuit clouts.

Gourriel hit .302/.396/.580 in the 2007-2008 Serie Nacional. He had 68 runs and 71 RBI in 79 games. He tied for 5th in the league in home runs (22), tied for 6th in RBI and was second in sacrifice flies (7, one behind Yasser Gomez). He failed to make the top 10 in slugging. He was named to the Serie Nacional All-Star team at third base.

Gourriel produced at a .229/.341/.286 clip in the 2008 Olympics as Cuba won Silver. He fielded .980 at second base, after moving to make room for Enriquez at third. Gourriel only drove in one run in 9 games. In the 9th inning of the Gold Medal game, he came up with a 3-2 deficit, the bases loaded and one out against Tae-hyun Chong. Gourriel promptly hit into a game-ending double play. Gourriel rotated between second base and third base in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when Cuba failed to make the finals in a global baseball event for the first time in 58 years. He hit .333/.333/.625 with 2 homers, 5 runs and 6 RBI in a solid six games. He tied Yoennis Céspedes and Frederich Cepeda for the team lead in runs and was second to Cepeda in RBI.

In the 2008-2009 Serie Nacional, Gourriel batted .399/.499/.710 with 22 home runs, 90 RBI and 77 runs in 84 games. He ranked among the leaders in hits (131, 2nd, 5 behind leader Yoilán Cerce), triples (7, tied for 4th), homers (7th), total bases (233, 2nd to Alfredo Despaigne), RBI (90, 2nd, 7 behind Despaigne), average (2nd, .002 behind Michel Enriquez) and slugging (.710, 2nd, .046 behind Despaigne). He was named the All-Star third baseman and shared Gold Glove honors with Marino Luis.

In 2014, Gurriel was given a rare permission to play abroad by Cuban authorities and joined the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. He hit a solid .305 with 22 doubles and 11 homers in 62 games for Yokohama but after only one season in Japan, he returned to Cuba claiming he was injured and needed to recuperate in his homeland. He then played for Industriales de La Habana of the Serie Nacional in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

After playing in the 2016 Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic with Ciego de Ávila as one of the team's "national reinforcements", Gurriel reportedly left the team alongside younger brother and teammate Lourdes Jr. in an attempt to defect and find employment in Major League Baseball. Yulieski's defection meant that the experiment to allow certain players to join a foreign league - but not MLB - while still in their prime was not preventing these players from seeking their ultimate goal. After defecting, he moved to an undisclosed location in order to establish residency and request to be declared a free agent by MLB. This happened on June 13th, allowing him to sign with any interested team. The signing came on July 16th, and it was with the Houston Astros who gave him a five-year deal. He was expected to be playing in the majors for the Astros before the end of the season. Indeed, after 15 minor league games at four different levels, he was called up to Houston to make his debut on August 21st. Starting as the designated hitter against the Baltimore Orioles, he singled off Yovani Gallardo in his first at-bat and went 1 for 2 with a walk before being replaced by pinch-hitter Tony Kemp in the 8th. Houston won the game, 5-3. Manager A.J. Hinch explained after the game that he had been pulled from the game because of a tight hamstring, but the issue was not considered serious. On September 25th, he tied a major league record by grounding into 4 double plays in a game. He hit .262 in 36 games.

Yuli was a key part of one of the best teams in the majors in 2017 as he was the starting first baseman for the Astros and part of a fearsome line-up that dominated opponents. On July 21st, he had a career game against the Baltimore Orioles, collecting four hits including a homer in an 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles. He had a chance to hit for the cycle in the 9th, but popped out to the outfield and ended up missing the triple. Still, he broke Aaron Judge's streak of being named the American League Rookie of the Month for three consecutive months by winning the honor in July. He hit .304 with 5 homers and 20 RBIs during the month. He finished the year at .299 with 43 doubles, 18 homers and 75 RBIs. In the postseason, he was particularly devastating in the Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, when he went 9 for 17 (.529) with a double and a triple. He then added 6 hits, three of them doubles, in the Astros' win over the New York Yankees in the ALCS and another 6 hits, inclusing 3 doubles and 2 homers in the World Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. His World Series were marred by an unfortunate incident in Game 3, when after homering off Yu Darvish, he was caught on camera in the dugout making a gesture mocking Darvish's Asian heritage. He was fined an undisclosed amount, ordered to undergo sensitivity training and suspended for the first five games of the 2018 season as a result.

Aside from the suspension, the start of Gurriel's 2018 season was further delayed by a wrist problem which surfaced early in spring training. He had to undergo surgery on February 28th to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand. He had a pre-existing fracture, and the safest course of action was the operation, which was expected to sideline him until mid-April. Following the injury and suspension, he played his first game on April 13th, then the next day hit a three-run homer off Mike Minor and added a double in a 6-5 loss to the Texas Rangers, picking up where he had left off the previous season. On September 21st, he had a two-homer game in an 11-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels which clinched a postseason slot for the Astros. The homers were a 1st-inning grand slam and a two-run shot in the 3rd; he added another RBI to give him 7 on the day. On the same day, his younger sibling, rookie Lourdes Jr. also had a two-homer game for his team, the Toronto Blue Jays, making the two the first pair of brothers ever to have multiple-homer games on the same day. He finished the year at .291 in 136 games, with 13 homers and 85 RBIs. On the downside, he led the AL with 22 double play grounders. In the postseason, he was a combined 7 for 31 with 1 homer and 3 RBIs as Houston bowed out at the ALCS stage.

Gurriel won the AL Player of the Month Award for the first time in July of 2019 when he hit .398 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs for the Astros. He had only hit 8 homers through the end of June before his power explosion. He then made an early case to repeat wining the honor in August when on August 7th, he drove in 8 runs in a 14-3 win over the Colorado Rockies, tying a team record set by J.R. Towles in 2007; this came on the back of a two-homer game against the same team the day before. Combined with his 7-RBI game a year earlier, it made him the second Astro after Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell to have two games of 7 or more RBIs. He finished the year at .298 in 144 games, with 40 doubles, 31 homers, 85 runs and 104 RBIs. He hit .316 in the Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, but was just 3 for 24 against the New York Yankees in the ALCS. In the World Series against the Washington Nationals, he hit .310 with a homer and 5 RBIs, but Houston lost in 7 games.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he appeared in 57 of the 60 games played by the Astros, and like many of their players, saw his batting average fall markedly following revelations regarding their infamous sign-stealing scandal dating back to their championship season. His batting average fell to .232 and his OPS+ tumbled all the way to 77. The Astros barely made it into the expanded postseason, but then seemed to turn back into the juggernaut they had been until the scandal had been exposed as they made it to within one game of the World Series. However, his hitting did not really much improve, as he was a combined 2 for 23 in their first two series, and 3 for 21 in their loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS, without a single extra-base hit over the three series. At 36, many observers thought he was washed up, but he made a great comeback in 2021, leading the American League with a batting average of .319, to go along with 31 doubles, 15 homers, 83 runs and 81 RBIs. His OPS+ was 131, he also led the league with 12 sacrifice flies and to top it all won a Gold Glove for his fielding at first base. The Astros reached the World Series for the third time in five years, and he was particularly good in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox when he went 10 for 22 (.455) with 4 runs and 6 RBIs. He then was 6 for 22 in the Fall Classic, which the Astros lost to the Atlanta Braves.

In 2022, the Astros won their second World Series title, this one untainted by scandal, when they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the last dance. At 38, Gurriel was still a regular, but his production faded visibly as he finished at .242 with 8 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games, for an OPS+ of 84. The Astros had plenty of other offensive weapons, so they still finished with the best record in the AL during the season, then powered through the postseason. He was outstanding in all three rounds, finishing his career as an Astro with fireworks as he went a combined 17 for 49 (.347) with a pair of homers on the way to a title. After the season, he became a free agent, and it soon became clear that he would not be back in Houston when the Astros went out and signed 1B José Abreu early in the off-season.

It took until March 10, 2023 for Gurriel to find a new team, by which time spring training games had been going on for two weeks and the 2023 World Baseball Classic was under way. He landed with the Miami Marlins, where he was to serve as a complement to 1B Garrett Cooper, who had never played more than 120 games in a season.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Gold Glove Winner (2021)
  • AL Batting Average Leader (2021)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2019)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2019)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (2019)
  • Won two World Series with the Houston Astros (2017 & 2022)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Nathalie Alonso: "Gurriels are first family of Cuban baseball: Yuli, Lourdes Jr. living out father Lourdes Sr.'s MLB dream", mlb.com, January 5, 2019. [1]
  • Jack Baer: "Former Astros 1B Yuli Gurriel reportedly agrees to deal with Marlins", Yahoo! Sports, March 9, 2023. [2]
  • Mike Lupica: "This trio is the backbone of Astros' October success", mlb.com, October 26, 2022. [3]
  • Brian McTaggart: "Gurriel singles, strains hamstring in debut: Hinch says Cuban is day to day, but could have finished game", mlb.com, August 21, 2016. [4]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Astros hopeful Yulieski Gurriel ready to blossom, one year after fleeing Cuba", USA Today Sports, March 20, 2017. [5]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Yuli Gurriel: MLB suspension for slurring Yu Darvish was 'worth learning from'", USA Today Sports, April 2, 2018. [6]
  • Jesse Sanchez: "At Caribbean Series, Gourriel captures the imagination: Cuba star making scouts wonder what could be if infielder makes it to Majors", mlb.com, February 5, 2015. [7]
  • Jesse Sanchez: "Post Cuba: O' Brothers, Where Start Thou? Yulieski Gurriel said to be MLB-ready; Lourdes a highly regarded prospect", mlb.com, February 8, 2016. [8]
  • Jesse Sanchez: "Gurriels training at undisclosed location: Cuban stars OK after defecting, talk about 'working toward our dream'", mlb.com, February 16, 2016. [9]
  • Jesse Sanchez: "Gurriel's hunch proves correct: He belongs: Cuban first baseman has found a niche with the Astros", mlb.com, October 24, 2017. [10]

Related Sites[edit]