Two of Cuba’s top players reportedly defect to pursue MLB career

Yulieski Gurriel playing with the Cuban national team.

Yuki Taguchi/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Two of Cuba’s top baseball players are believed to have defected from Cuba to pursue a career in Major League Baseball.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, who are brothers, defected from Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following the Caribbean Series that concluded Sunday, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez — first reported by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald.

Lourdes is considered Cuba’s top prospect, while his brother Yulieski is considered the island nation’s top player. Both have repeatedly expressed a desire to legally leave the country with permission from the Cuban government with tensions easing between them and the United States.

Yulieski was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. As one of the nation’s most decorated players, he was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He has been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series. He is considered major-league ready, and possibly could find a spot on a MLB roster this season. Playing mostly third base, he has been a career .333/.414/.577 hitter during his professional career.

Yulieski was recently allowed by the Cuban government to play in Nippon Professional Baseball batting .305/.349/.536 with 11 home runs in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars.

Lourdes, the younger of the two brothers, could face more obstacles before finding himself on a major-league roster due to his age. Should he sign before his 23rd birthday, he would be subject to international bonus pools, limiting which teams could sign him. After Oct. 19, he would be free to sign with any club he chooses. During his short career thus far, Lourdes has batted .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances. His numbers have steadily increased every year of his playing career.

The brothers come from a family of famous professional Cuban baseball players. Their oldest brother, Yunieski, 33, has won two MVP Awards in 16 seasons with Serie Nacional, and has spent the past two seasons playing for Quebec in the Canadian-American Association. The brothers’ father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., played for the Cuban national team for 15 years, winning a gold medal, two batting titles and an MVP award. More recently, he was a national team manager.

While the MLB will eventually be getting two top talents in the majors with the players defecting, both players will need to establish residency in a new country then be declared a free agent by MLB before any clubs and officially attempt to sign them. There is no specific amount of time the process can take, as each case presents a difference situation.