Photo credit: Claudia Daut/Reuters
Yulieski Gourriel is generally thought to be the most talented infielder in the world who is not playing in the majors by most scouts and GMs around baseball. I first noticed him in the World Baseball Classic while he played for the mysterious team Cuba and was curious to know more about him as well as the level of ball played in Cuba.
Gourriel is a SS/3B for the Sancti Spiritus of the Cuban National League. Born June 9th, 1984, the 22 year old first began playing international basebal for the Cuban National Team at the age of 17. A bona fide 5-tool player, Gourriel is a slick fielder with plus power to all fields. This year Gourriel had 27 HR and was one HR shy of the Cuban League record of 28.
In the 2005 World Cup of Baseball, Gourriel led Cuba to a gold medal while managing a tournament high 8 HR. As I said before, I first came to notice him in 2006 at the World Baseball Classic which I keenly watched with baited breath. Seeing the undrafted Gourriel play SS with authority made me drool as I looked at the Jays current mish mash of SS and 2B after the departure of Orlando Hudson. It became apparent to me that he was no amateur as he dazzled in the field and at the dish against big league super stars.
“That kid is something special,” said John Kazanas, an area scout for the White Sox who saw Gourriel in the 2004 Olympics, when Kazanas was the Greek team’s coach. “He’s got such quick wrists, it’s like a knife through butter, and there’s no butter on the knife.
“There were a lot of good players in Athens. I wrote him up as my No. 1, and he was 20 years old on top of it.”
“For me, he’s a No. 1 guy, and he’s a power hitter who fits the third base profile,” said a scout with extensive international experience. “I think he’s a championship-caliber third baseman in the big leagues. He doesn’t have a weakness.”
Gourriel has a long, sinewy-strong body, comparable to a young Chipper Jones or Ernie Banks, and he produces tremendous power with quick wrists, strong hands and an unconventional approach at the plate that nevertheless allows him to generate terrific bat speed.
Another scout put it more bluntly: “After I saw him, I tried to convince my organization that it’s worth it to try and do what we can to get this guy out of Cuba. This guy has a chance to be a big league shortstop or third baseman and be an impact player for 10 years.”
So why hasn’t Gourriel defected then? Millions of dollars await him and he has had every opportunity to defect with his numerous forays into international competition. Since the WBC, rumours have been plentiful regarding his defection. Gourriel however laughs off those reports.
“I laughed when I saw those reports, because I was home as soon as we finished playing,” Gourriel told ESPNdeportes.com via telephone from his home in Sancti Spiritus in southeast Cuba.
“I’m only interested in playing ball, that’s what I concentrate on,” said Gourriel. “If I paid attention to all the other things, I wouldn’t play as well – that’s what I’m here for, to play for my country.”
“My commitment is to my family, which has guided me since I was little, and the revolution, which has guaranteed me everything I’ve needed to become a ballplayer,” he said. “That’s all I need as a person. I have definite convictions.”
It is admirable that Gourriel has such convictions for his mother Cuba and plays for the purity of the game. It is a shame though that more people can’t see him play on a day to day basis. If you ever get the chance to watch Cuba play, keep your eye on Yulieski Gourriel.