While everyone is focused on the 2017 free agent market, the St. Louis Cardinals may benefit from looking outside the United States. Cuba has produced quality talent thus far and there is another player that looks promising.
While the St. Louis Cardinals are currently relying on Aledmys Diaz at shortstop, there may be another option in Cuba. Lourdes Gourriel recently turned 23-years old and can now be signed by a Major League organization without it counting against the international spending limit.
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Gourriel Jr., who plays shortstop and outfield, was hitting .321 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs and a .924 OPS in 43 games for the Havana Industriales this season. A good runner with a good glove, he could project as a center fielder and can also play shortstop.
“A lot of things have to happen, but I hope to someday be a part of something like this – coming back to Cuba,” Gourriel told a few reporters at the ballpark that day, including MLB.com’s Sanchez and myself. “It’s one of my dreams. … I’ve always had that dream since I was a little kid. To get this close and to possibly live this dream is really emotional.”
Lourdes Gourriel’s big brother is already playing in the majors. Yulieski Gourriel, 32, was signed by the Houston Astros and played in 36 major league games. He batted .262/.292.385 with 3 home runs and 15 RBI in 130 at bats. The Astros utilized him mainly at 3rd base but he also made appearances as a first baseman, designated hitter, and left fielder.
However, the younger Gourriel remains unsigned. Earlier this year, the St. Louis Cardinals showed their interest in the young Cuban by attending a private workout hosted by Gourriel Jr. The details of the workout have not been disclosed but interest in him has risen among MLB teams.
Throughout his career in Cuba’s top professional league, Gourriel Jr. has batted .277/.362/.426 in about 1100 plate appearances. However, recently, he has shown much more improvement at the plate. As a 20-year old he slashed .308/.388/.466 in the 2014-15 season. Furthermore, during the 2015-16 season he dominated with a .344/.407/.560 slash-line as a 21-year old. He also showed power by hitting 10 home runs in 245 plate appearances.
Lourdes Gourriel, Jr., primarily has served as a shortstop and is likely capable of sliding over to third base, second base, or learn the outfield. He stands at 6’4″ and 205 pounds which is large compared to other players at the position.
Signing him would be an incredibly smart move by the St. Louis Cardinals. He provides the farm system with an additional top prospect while also giving the front office more options with regard to the future of the organization. If Gourriel is signed, he would start in the minor leagues and like his older brother, he would work his way up.
Currently, Diaz, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, and Matt Carpenter make up the bulk of the time in the middle infield while Jhonny Peralta is expected to play third base full-time. Gourriel could enter the infield in one of two ways. He could either be moved to third base and become comfortable there while adjusting to MLB quality pitching in the minors. Or, he could become a second baseman and make an inconsistent Kolten Wong be moved or made into a super-utility player.
Or, he could become a second baseman and force an inconsistent Kolten Wong to be moved or made into a super-utility player. Then Carpenter could be a full-time first baseman while Gyorko continues to be a power-threat off the bench.
As far as price goes, much of it would be speculation. Hector Olivera (30), Jose Abreu (27), and Yasmany Tomas (24) each got over $60 million. Aledmys Diaz, who was also signed from Cuba, was given a 4-year, $8 million contract when he was 24-years old.
As for Gourriel, Jr., he should find himself under what Olivera, Abreu, and Tomas received but stands to make more than Diaz. His brother, Yulieski, signed a 5-year, $47.5 million contract with the Astros and he is 32-years old. Whatever the cost is, the St. Louis Cardinals should spend it. Lourdes Gourriel has the ability to make a huge impact on the Cardinals and it could come relatively quickly.