The Runner Sports

Astros In 2017: The Power Of Yulieski Gurriel

One of the few bright spots in a Houston Astros season where a Wild Card is still in play, has been the addition of IF/DH Yulieski Gurriel to the lineup.

Signed as an international free agent on July 16, the 32-year-old Cuban native spent 15 years starring for the Cuban National Series, the leading domestic amateur baseball competition in the country. Part of 2014 (62 games) was spent in Yokohama for the Japan Central League. He was an Olympian in 2004 and ’08. Gurriel’s deal is worth $47.5 million over five years.

“I always had the hope to play in the United States,” Gurriel said on the day of the deal’s announcement. “But it always seemed like something very far away; it has been my dream my whole life to be here and to play next to big league players.”

Related: Houston Signs Yulieski Gurriel; Now What?

¿Sabías?

Known by few is the fact that Gurriel signed with Houston (after courting serious offers by a handful of other MLB teams) largely because GM Jeff Luhnow speaks fluent Spanish (he was born and raised in Mexico City).

With that particular skill set missing from many, if not most, other GMs, Yuli was easily impressed with the notion that he could speak with his boss, unencumbered by an interpreter. Note to other GMs: Hit the Rosetta Stone website, pronto, or risk missing out on future international signings.

The Short and Winding Road to the Majors

A few days working out at the Astros’ Kissimmee, FL spring facility (while waiting for his U.S. work visa) was followed by a whirlwind affiliate tour, putting in parts of weeks in four levels of the Houston farm system. His MLB debut came on August 21st.

Through games of September 10, Gurriel has turned in a .339 batting average and an .856 OPS, after 17 games and 56 at-bats. Since his mid-August debut, he has exploded into a barrage of offensive damage that portends an intriguingly productive 2017, although his first homer didn’t come until his 44th at-bat, Wednesday, September 7.

However, in the seven games since September 4 (a 7-6 win over the AL West division leading Texas Rangers), Yuli has hit .357 on 10 hits in 28 ABs, picked up his second home run, as well as his first big league stolen base.

Video: Watch Gurriel hit two doubles in a late-August Astro game

He had even taken over the clean-up spot in the lineup, although that’s partially been a result of the brief absence of shortstop Carlos Correa with left shoulder inflammation. Correa returned to the Astro lineup, Sunday, batting clean-up after missing 4 games.

In describing El Yuli’s baseball talents, Luhnow said at his signing: “It’s a combination of pretty impressive offensive output, both power and speed and average, and the ability to take walks and avoid strikeouts — all of the things we talk about being key elements of success in the major leagues.

“He’s a five-tool player with 15 years of incredible success on the international stage … pretty much the combination we’d design if we were going to design a ballplayer,” Luhnow added.

Related: The Yulieski Gurriel Watch: Astros Tweak Coordinates to AAA Fresno

Enter the Crystal Ball

Fans are not only awaiting the outcome of the 2016 season to see if the Astros can gain entry into the playoffs, but many are starting to look ahead to next year, with a productive Yuli Gurriel available from day one.

Using his numbers from this season, projecting a statistical outcome for his 2017 becomes possible, if not completely scientifically accurate. We’ll know how accurate a year from now.

Through September 10, Gurriel has accumulated 56 ABs in 17 games, so 9 will be our multiplier, as that would give us a 153-game stat projection on the season (out of 162 regular season games).

Related: Uncovering the Real 2017 Astros, and Yuli’s Role: What Other Previews Haven’t Told You

Projected 2017 Power Stats

504 ABs will yield 171 hits, of which 27 will be doubles, and 18 will be round-trippers (one HR every 28 ABs). He might total 63 runs, as well as RBI, but both will depend on where he hits in the lineup. As he seems to be finding his power stroke, a home run total in the 20s doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

Yuli’s top HR year was 2009, at age 25, when he hit 30, with a homer every 11.5 ABs. In six of his international years, he had 20 or more home runs.

Taking those six international 20+ home run years, he averaged one home run for every 14.3 ABs.

By comparison, among current 2016 AL long ball leaders’ home run to at-bat ratios, Gurriel would fall somewhere between Toronto’s Josh Donaldson‘s 15.2 (34 HR to date) and Baltimore’s Chris Davis‘ 13.6 (36). Nelson Cruz (35) of Seattle’s current 14.7 HR ratio is quite close to the 6-year international pull-out of Gurriel’s home runs/AB numbers.

Several variables are at play here:

A) Gurriel was in his early to mid-20s when he had his biggest home run years. Will his age (33 next June) be a barrier to sustainable success, power or otherwise?

B) He averaged only 315 ABs per season in his 15-year international career. For many major leaguers, that’s about half a complete season; Mookie Betts (Boston), for instance, has already topped 600 ABs. Will fatigue be a factor come summer?

Related: AL MVP: Betts or Jose Altuve?

C) MLB pitching Gurriel is facing is better than what he faced in both Cuba and Japan. How will he adjust to Houston’s opposing pitchers’ adjustments to him?

Yuli will surely be directed on an offseason training regimen, and Spring Training will give him and the team a better focus regarding his role, factoring in offseason trades and signings, etc.

Until then, securing a Wild Card position is priority one for Yuli Gurriel and the Astros.

But, first, a three-game home stand vs. the division-leading Texas Rangers (Sept. 12-14) awaits, before the Astros head to Seattle for a weekend set with the Mariners after Thursday’s day off.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Here I am, meeting with Nolan Ryan at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX. One of us is trying to convince the other to take his 90 mph fastball, and get back into the game.

Needless to say, I've decided to spend my golden years, instead, crooning Sinatra at nursing homes, while reflecting on a life well-lived in the classroom, spinning rock'n'roll in '70s radio stations, and peddling wax in the record biz.

I'm a Houston native, having attended 'Stro games in Colt Stadium, the beloved Astrodome, and Minute Maid.

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Brad Kyle