For Blue Jays, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is a case of right player, right time

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a reported seven-year, $22 million contract on Friday

In an off-season with several pressing needs, few expected the Blue Jays to commit their first $22 million to a player with zero major league at-bats.

Toronto’s seven-year deal with 23-year-old Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr., first reported by Jesse Sanchez, represents an intelligent intersection of short and long-term benefit for two reasons:

Flexibility

Along with brief cameos at second and third base in his final season playing with Industriales de La Habana in Cuba, Gurriel played primarily at shortstop and in left field.

Gurriel has the athleticism and defensive talent necessary to earn this audition at shortstop until he proves unfit for the position. As with any player capable of test-driving a premium position like short, centre-field, or catcher, it makes sense to begin there and work out if necessary.

The variety of Gurriel’s tools could allow the Blue Jays to be flexible with his defensive placement going forward. If his power tool advances, which it has the potential to, he could comfortably project as a corner outfield bat.

This instantly gives Gurriel several potential lanes to the major leagues, something that many high-level prospects still lack. Toronto can afford to be patient with his introduction to the minor leagues, likely as a member of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and set him on the likeliest path to success.

Richard Urena is currently the Blue Jays’ top shortstop prospect, but remains very raw. The same goes for top centre-field prospect Anthony Alford, while Rowdy Tellez won’t overlap positionally with Gurriel. If he plays well, there won’t be much in his way.

Developmental Curve

A typical teenage signing on the International market requires many years of development and a great deal of uncertainty. This requires resources, patience, and a hope that the player is still valuable by the time they reach Gurriel’s age (23).

In Gurriel, the Blue Jays land a prospect that has already done the majority of his development without having his value falling off in the eyes of scouts. There remains a great deal of risk in projecting a player like this with little information (relative to an American amateur prospect from a well-scouted area), but Gurriel does come with a much higher floor.

The pitching that Gurriel faced is not strong enough to draw hard conclusions from, but his walk rates in Cuba do show signs of a mature plate approach. Over his past three seasons, Gurriel walked 85 times while striking out just 74.

His readiness makes this a justifiable and encouraging move. So much of Toronto’s positional prospect depth still rests below the double-A level, but Gurriel should fill the void between that group and the MLB roster quite well. At an average annual salary of a low-level free agent reliever, this makes the risk involved easy for the Blue Jays front office to digest.

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