Yulieski Gurriel, long considered both the best major league prospect and the best player in Cuba, has left the island with his brother Lourdes Jr., also a strong MLB prospect in his own right.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler confirmed an El Nuevo Herald report on the Gurriels this morning that the brothers have left the island, intending to establish residency elsewhere and become free agents. Both players have changed the spellings of their names recently; it’s been Gourriel in the past.
Yulieski, 31, was hitting .500/.589/.874 in 224 plate appearances during the 2015-2016 season in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, with 15 home runs, 38 walks and thtrr strikeouts prior to joining Cuba’s team for the Caribbean Series. He went 9-for-20 in five Caribbean Series games while playing second base and third base for Cuba, which went just 1-4.
Lourdes Jr., a 22-year-old who turns 23 in October, went 2-for-11 in the Series with four strikeouts in 11 at-bats, but also ranks as one of the top prospects in Cuba. He was hitting .344/.407/.560 with 10 home runs in 245 plate appearances.
The Gurriel brothers play for Industriales in Cuba, with Yulieski manning third base while Lourdes, whose tools fit in the infield, usually plays left field for both Industriales and the Cuban national team. They have long track records but have been seen regularly in recent years in top international competitions, such as the last two Caribbean Series and November’s Premier 12 tournament.
Yulieski has shown increased intensity in international play in that period as more and more Cubans have left the island and found fame and fortune in MLB. With his father Lourdes Sr. being a member of the Cuban Communist party and a national hero from his own time as a player on the national team, Yulieski had been seen as forbidden fruit by many scouts who thought he would never leave Cuba.
Now that he has, he’s expected to set off a significant bidding war as soon as he becomes eligible to sign, as he’s not subject to international bonus pools. Gurriel, a listed 6-foot, 195 pounds, has lightning-fast hands and classic third base tools with arm strength, body control and plus power. He has played professionally before in Japan but did not report in 2015 to play for the Yokohama DeNa BayStars. He played for the BayStars in 2014 for 62 games, hitting .305/.349/.536 with 22 doubles and 11 home runs in 258 plate appearances.
Speculation about how much the elder Gurriel would sign for would be premature; he’s a better player than Hector Olivera, who signed in 2015 on a six-year, $62.5 million contract with a $28 million bonus.
Lourdes Jr., who would be subject to the bonus pools until he turns 23 in the fall, has shown above-average speed and defensive ability in the outfield, and scouts would like to see him give infield a try. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has long arms and some holes in his swing as a result but also has shown above-average power potential.
With the Gurriel brothers defecting following Jose Fernandez’s departure in December, the Nos. 1, 3-4 players on the island have left in the past three months.
Baseball America will have more on the Gurriel brothers as information becomes available.