MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez is reporting that the “two top players from the most famous baseball family in Cuba”, Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (also spelled Gourriel), have both defected, and will be looking to sign with major league teams as soon as they can become eligible.
Brothers Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, are believed to have 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.
Just this past Saturday, Sanchez spoke with Yulieski Gourriel, who foreshadowed today’s news when he spoke about some day playing in the MLB.
“I want to play, but I want to do it legally, with permission,” Gourriel said, repeating what he said last season in Venezuela when Cuba returned to the Caribbean Series for the first time since 1960. “Everyone wants to play in the highest level in the world. For baseball players, that’s in MLB.”
While it seems like the two brothers just said “fuck it” and defected from Cuba anyway, there still could be an outside chance that they got permission and left Cuba legally. This, if you recall, is how Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada came to the United States in the summer of 2014.
In April of last year, Baseball America’s Ben Badler ranked Yulieski Gurriel as the best player in Cuba. It’s likely that he wouldn’t need much time at the minor league level, before being ready to join a major league club. It’s obviously not comparable to major league competition, but his baseball-reference page shows just how talented this guy is. In 2008, he hit .399 with an 1.183 OPS in 84 games in the Cuban National Series, which is the most prominent amateur baseball league in Cuba. In 2015 — in only 23 games — he hit .535 with a 1.615 OPS, and no that’s not a typo. This guy slugged 1.012. Most dudes don’t even sniff an OPS that high.
If you want an idea of where Yulieski Gurriel might end up, this quote from April of last year might be a solid clue.
Asked what team he would like to play for, Gourriel instantly replied, “the Yankees,” where he would be able to join his favorite player, Alex Rodriguez.
If you’re interested in the whole process of how these superstar Cuban players get to the United States, ESPN did an incredible piece on how Yasiel Puig got to the major leagues, and it is both extremely fascinating and terrifying.