Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looks like he’s got the talent to stick in the big leagues, and arguably his most valuable skill hasn’t been utilized yet, his versatility.
The Blue Jays have dropped two out of the last three games to the New York Yankees this week, and will look for another series split with the Bronx Bombers on Sunday. It hasn’t been all bad at all for the Jays, as they picked up an 8-5 win on Friday, and there have been a few solid individual performances to get excited about.
One of those performances has come from the recently promoted Lourdes Gurriel Jr. who made his MLB debut on Friday against the Yankees. He more than delivered in his first game, going 2-5 and picking up three RBI in the Blue Jays’ win. He followed that up by going 1-3 on Saturday as well, giving him a .375 (3-8) batting average in the small sample size.
It’s an encouraging start for the Cuban infielder, who signed with the Blue Jays in 2016 to a seven year, 22 million dollar deal, and spent last season between High-A Dunedin, and Double-A in New Hampshire where he hit a combined .229/.268/.339 in 64 games and 234 at bats. He struggled at first, hitting just .197 in his 18 games played in Dunedin, but performed much better with the bat after he moved up to Double-A, slashing .241/.286/.371. It was a different story this season however, as he was tearing apart Double-A and hitting .347/.382/.510 in 12 games played, also picking up 11 RBI as part of a trio along with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette that feasted on the Eastern League pitchers.
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With Gift Ngoepe struggling at the plate with just one hit in 18 at bats, the Blue Jays felt it was time to give someone else a shot at the back-up infielder position, and Gurriel’s play so far in 2018 certainly warranted an opportunity. He also played well in the Arizona Fall League last year, and showed enough growth to justify the promotion. So far he’s making the Blue Jays look good, and he hasn’t even displayed what might arguably be the most valuable trick in his bag, his versatility.
Last August there was an article published by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet that highlighted Gurriel and his defensive versatility. He’s spent all of last season split between second base and shortstop, but he’s played all over the diamond as a professional. In the Cuban National Series league where he played before the Blue Jays signed him, he spent time at shortstop, second base, third base, first base, and in the outfield, with left field being his second most frequent position.
Davidi highlighted that the Blue Jays had wanted to get him comfortable with one or two positions to begin with, but utilizing that versatility was part of the plan for the future. Ross Atkins was quoted in the article, saying as much:
"70“We’re trying to create some consistency but ultimately we see him as a player who can play multiple (spots), not just two infield positions but potentially play the outfield as well,” – Ross Atkins (Sportsnet, Aug 12, 2017)"
For now I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot or any of Gurriel in the outfield, as John Gibbons already has some juggling to do to keep his outfielders in the lineup with regularity. However, it’s a valuable skill to have in his back pocket, and something we can likely expect to see in the future. Atkins also mentioned back then that the Blue Jays had hoped to “do that gradually and see how it works”, but so far they’ve left him at the keystone positions. The better he performs and the more comfortable he becomes, we can likely expect to see him branch out.
Seeking players with defensive versatility is becoming a growing trend in baseball, and the Blue Jays were fortunate enough to get their own multi-position player in Yangervis Solarte this offseason. The former San Diego Padre has already provided a lot of value, spending time at second base, third base, and shortstop, and has played in the outfield in the past as well. While he’s a capable defender, he doesn’t have the upside with the glove that Gurriel could bring to the table. And if Gurriel can keep developing into the hitter the Jays believe he may become, he could be their own version of a Ben Zobrist or Marwin Gonzalez type.
For now, we can add him to the list of exciting young players in the Blue Jays’ stable even if he only plays one position. If he can become that “super-utility” guy, then even better.