Posted on August 21, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Yulieski Gurriel

Image via cubanet.org

Cuban defector Yulieski Gurriel is poised to make his big league debut. After Gurriel signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Houston Astros last month and played 15 games in the minors, Gurriel will be promoted to the big leagues on Sunday for his major league debut. Astros manager A.J. Hinch says Gurriel will be in Sunday’s lineup as the designated hitter.

The 32-year old Gurriel is considered one of the best players to defect from Cuba in recent years. He played for Cuba in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, as well as the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. Despite having the reputation as a strong offensive player with plenty of power, Gurriel has been largely unimpressive during his time in the minors while playing with four different Astros affiliates over the last few weeks.

Despite that inconsistent production in the minors, the Astros are comfortable bringing him up to the big leagues at this point in time. “He got up to 50 at-bats with us in the minor leagues. That’s a normal spring training for him,” Hinch said. “We’ve bounced him around the country. But from a baseball standpoint he’s ready, and he’s ready for this challenge. To add him to this group is exciting for us, certainly fun for us, our guys will be excited about it. His baseball readiness — he’s in shape and ready to go.”

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The question now becomes where Gurriel will play with the Astros for the remainder of the season. He will make his debut as a DH, although Evan Gattis and A.J. Reed are also seeing time there, so Hinch putting him at DH on Sunday may be a way for him to get his feet wet in the majors and not necessarily a permanent solution.

Third base is Gurriel’s primary position, although he’s also capable of playing second base and shortstop. Of course, second base and shortstop are not options with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa holding down the middle of the infield for the Astros. Third base for the Astros is currently being handled by rookie Alex Bregman, who had just one hit in his first 32 at bats in the majors, but has caught fire as of late with 11 hits in his last five games, so the Astros may be motivated to keep him at third base.

Two alternate options for Gurriel are left field, where he played one game during his stint in the minors, and first base. With Jake Marisnick taking over in center field after the team cut ties with Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus still on the DL, left field may be the best option to get Gurriel in the lineup on a daily basis. First base may also be an option with both Reed and switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez struggling to produce much. Luis Valbuena may not be an option either for first base after a recent injury setback. Of course, Gurriel has little experience playing first base.

How exactly Hinch and the Astros will utilize Gurriel remains to be seen, but it should be interesting to watch how one of Cuba’s most heralded offensive players fares early in his big league career. The Astros have fallen 9.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West, but they are just 4.5 games out of the second wild card spot. They obviously have a lot of work to do to get back to the postseason, but the hope is that Gurriel can give them an immediate lift and make a meaningful difference in their quest to return to the playoffs.

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