Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and his struggles in the batter’s box
With the 2019 season just beginning, players are starting to get regular at-bats and everyday playing time. The season hasn’t been kind when it comes to batting averages on the Blue Jays, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is among them.
This opening day was the first for quite a few young players on the Toronto Blue Jays. While he is no stranger to time spent in a Jays uniform, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. lined up on the third base line and heard his name introduced on the loudspeakers for his first MLB opening day. While shaking hands with teammates, I don’t think Gurriel Jr. imagined his season would start as rough as it has.
Lourdes is no stranger to baseball, and comes from a pedigree started by his father in Cuba, and continued by himself and his brother Yulieski Gurriel in the Houston Astros organization. Gurriel Jr. came to the Blue Jays as a free agent and was signed to a 7 year $22 million dollar deal without ever playing a game in either the MLB or MiLB.
The reason he received such a large contract was based on his skills, his pedigree, and his professional experience in the Cuban National Series, a league he has played in since he was 16 years old. He would also go on to represent his country on a national level at the Central America and Caribbean games in 2014, winning the gold medal.
While competing in the Caribbean series in the Dominican Republic, both Lourdes and his brother Yuli took the opportunity to defect from Cuba in order to gain eligibility to play in the MLB. By defecting, both players were granted free agent status by the MLB and could, therefore, sign as free agents with any of the major league teams.
First year in the MLB
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. saw his first taste of major league baseball in 2018, being called up from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on April 20. He would predominantly play at 2B and would struggle to a .171 AVG before being sent down AAA Buffalo in mid-May.
He would return to the major leagues on July 2, 2018, and would fare much better the second time around. During his second stint, he would go on to beat Shoeless Joe Jacksons record of consecutive multi-hit games as a rookie with 11 games (which also tied the record for multi-hit games in the American League, also set by Jackson).
It was during the 11th game where Gurriel Jr. would, unfortunately, sustain a knee injury, and would not return to the Blue Jays until August 24 against the Philadelphia Phillies. He would only record one hit and the record is now tied instead of broken.
As mentioned earlier, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was named to the opening day roster for the Blue Jays and started at 2nd base. He would go 0-4 that game.
From the first game, it was all downhill from there.
Through his first 5 games of the year (he sat one game against the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles), he has gone 2 for 19 with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts. Coming into Cleveland, he has a slash line of .105/ .150/.158 and just hasn’t gotten clean hits off the bat.
So what gives? A player who had a .281 AVG last year couldn’t get a hit until his 5th game of the season this year.
I think one reason to Gurriel Jr. is due to his nerves. His first year as an opening day starter and he couldn’t buy a hit through the opening series. It seemed like he was trying to drive the ball but he was free-swinging at pitches well out of the strike zone.
A good example can be seen during the rally the Blue Jays had against the Orioles on April 1, late in the 9th inning. Hernandez was on 3B with 2 out, down by a run, and Lourdes swung on three straight pitches to end the game. Two of the pitches weren’t even close to the zone.
More from Toronto Blue Jays News
- Matt Chapman has been exactly what the Blue Jays needed
- Blue Jays: The goalposts are moving in the right direction
- Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays advance to the Championship Series
- Blue Jays: Comparisons for Alek Manoah’s Second Season
- Blue Jays: Adam Cimber, the unlikely decision King
I believe that after the first few games, Lourdes started to get a bit anxious and was trying to over-swing and do anything to get a hit. You just need that first hit to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to playing the good ol game of baseball.
He also has the pressure of trying to perform with younger prospects just down the road in Buffalo. All of them are eyeing for a spot on the big league roster, and Gurriel is not playing well. Demotion too AAA could be on the horizon and this would surely not help his mind at the plate.
Take a Pitch
I think another reason Gurriel Jr. is struggling at the plate is that he is being too wild at the plate.
It looks like he is trying to drive the ball into the Westjet flight deck on every swing, instead of hitting to get on base or even taking a pitch when at the plate.
If you look at his batting counts, Gurriel Jr. has struck out a combined 5 times (out of 7) when he is 0-2 or 1-2 in the count. Compared to his other counts, Lourdes has only 1 strikeout when he is up in the count 2-0/2-1. Even when he has an even count at 2-2, he has only had 1 strikeout.
Now obviously I understand that the batter has a better chance of not striking out when he has more balls in the count, but my point is just take a damn pitch and get into those counts. He has tried to hit the ball on the first pitch 4 times and has gotten out 100% of the time.
I’m also not saying that he should lighten or change his swing, but when you’re down 0-2 or 1-2 in the count, putting the ball in play may be of a priority rather than the home run. Choke up on the bat a little (enter Curtis Granderson).
I know it is early in the season and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is a newer player in terms of major league experience. He doesn’t have many games at the MLB level under his belt.
There are also over 150 games left in the season for him to turn it around and put the ball in play.
But if there is an opportunity to prove you belong with the major league team, now is the time. Your main competition at 2nd base is Alen Hanson and Devon Travis, and one of those players is on the injured list again (not going to name names). It will only get more difficult as the prospects progress and infield roster spots become more valuable and harder to keep. With limited competition right now, a hot bat will keep Lourdes in the lineup and could force management to make a decision on other players on the Blue Jays (see above).
As it sits right now, it almost seems like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. may need a stint in AAA to get his mind back on track and to get back to fundamental hitting.
One could argue that given the season the Blue Jays are having, they might as well keep him with the big league team to figure out his struggles. You could also argue that some time away from the media coverage and the bright lights of Toronto might do him some good to get his mentality back to the player we saw glimpses of in 2018. There will be no winner in this argument.
In the future (2020 and beyond), the ideal scenario will most likely see Lourdes Gurriel Jr. slotting into the utility infielder role as other top prospects within the organization start making the team. He can play SS, 2nd and now 1B as well (surprised the hell out of me), which would make him an ideal candidate for that role. Maybe give him some reps in the outfield and see if he can track down some fly balls. Hell, throw him in the setup role, anything is possible this season.
Given his pedigree and his career in baseball, I am hopeful that this is just an ill-timed slump and that he does get back to his multi-hit ways. He is a young player with a lot of potential, who showed us just how great he can be at the plate in 2018.
On a rebuilding team, now is the time to prove your worth to the organization.