First Things First For Yulieski Gurriel

HOUSTON—When the Astros inserted Yulieski Gurriel into a game at first base last Sept. 2, he had never before played the position. The 32-year-old was a third baseman throughout his decorated career in Cuba. But third base with the Astros had been claimed by rookie sensation Alex Bregman.

Borrowing the first baseman’s mitt of teammate Marwin Gonzalez, Gurriel started four games at the position. The Astros view this as an important spring training for their $47.5 million man, because it’s the first chance he’s gotten to dig in and learn the position over an extended period of time.

Gurriel, who preserved his rookie status by one at-bat in 2016, comes into this season expected to be the Astros’ primary first baseman. The team hopes his accomplished right-handed bat halts what has been a revolving door at the position in recent years.

“It’s a different side of the infield from what he’s used to, but he showed us last year I think that he’s very capable defensively,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

The Astros invested in Gurriel last July for his offense. After debuting in August, he batted .262/.292/.385 in 130 at-bats with three home runs and seven doubles.

“He got his knocks when he was out there,” Luhnow said. “It didn’t matter if the guy was throwing 97 (mph) or 87, he was able to make contact.”

Gurriel is still expected to garner some repetitions at third base this spring, especially when Bregman is absent to play in the World Baseball Classic. But ultimately, his main entry point is first base, where he will be complemented by utility infielder Gonzalez.

“You never know how players are going to transition from a different league internationally over to Major League Baseball,” Luhnow said. “But we’ve seen some good transitions from the Cuban league, and I think Yuli’s going to continue the success that he had in Cuba here in the U.S.”


Astros manager A.J. Hinch was looking forward to watching prospect righthander Francis Martes pitch in big league camp because “there’s an opportunity he may help us at some point.”

The Astros expect to give outfield prospect Kyle Tucker “a few at-bats” in major league camp even though he’s not an official non-roster invitee, Hinch said.

— Jake Kaplan covers the Astros for the Houston Chronicle

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