Lourdes Gurriel Jr. picked up his sixth outfield assist of the season by throwing Luke Voit out by a mile at the plate on Tuesday, and it’s becoming a habit for the former infielder.
I remind myself time and time again that baseball has a ridiculously long season, and that short-term struggles shouldn’t be an automatic reflection of a player’s abilities. Even the best players go through ups and downs over the course of 162 games.
I did my best to keep that in mind when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was sent back to Triple-A earlier this season, but it was hard not to be disappointed with the start to the campaign for such a talented young player. He showed enormous potential last season over 65 games, and I know I wasn’t alone in hoping he’d solidify himself in the Blue Jays’ infield this year.
That obviously didn’t happen, and sending him down to Buffalo was mostly about giving him a break from the mental struggles he was going through trying to throw the ball to first base. Things got bad enough with his case of the “yips” that a routine throw to first base wasn’t going well, and that naturally bled into the rest of his game.
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Since he’s returned he’s been stationed in left field, and taking the defensive pressure of the infield off of his shoulders has lifted his hitting to another level lately. He’s now slashing .295/.343/.571 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI for the season as a whole, and he’s hit .336/.376/.672 over the last 30 days according to MLB.com.
His offence has made a significant enough impact that it would be acceptable if the Jays were hiding his glove in left field, but that’s hardly been the case since the 25-year-old made the position switch. He’s gradually getting better with his route running all the time, and he’s displayed a ton of athleticism by chasing down balls in the gap and in the corner.
He’s also reminded us that the cannon he had for an arm from shortstop last year will translate quite well to left field. On Tuesday night, Luke Voit made the decision to try to score from second on a single to left field, and Gurriel Jr. threw him out by a mile. Voit isn’t the most fleet of foot, but that throw would have nabbed some of the fastest players in the game if they tried to score.
He’s already earned six outfield assists, and sooner or later the rest of the league is going to become aware that they should think twice before trying to run on the Cuban talent, even if he’s still relatively new to the position. He had played in the outfield while playing professionally in Cuba as a very young man, but it had been a long enough break that the transition was going to take a bit of time and effort. So far he’s passing the eye-test with swimming colours.
According to Statcast, the numbers show that he’s not a finished product in left field, but he is showing steady improvement all the time, and most importantly, a renewed sense of confidence. He’s made big gains in the jump and reaction time toward fly balls, and I’m very confident that his numbers will continue to improve into an above-average rating for stuff like route running.
Those things will come, but he’s already a defensive weapon with the arm he’s shown off, both with strength and accuracy. Given more time and experience, he’s only going to get better, and that’s an exciting thing to think about.