When the Blue Jays return to contention in a few years, it is likely they will be led by the sons of former big leaguers. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the obvious headliner. Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, has flashed promise this year as well, and Bo Bichette is biding his time in Triple-A. Dante Bichette’s son is among the game’s very best prospects.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is not the son of a former big leaguer, but he is the son of a Cuban baseball legend, and he too is emerging as a core piece for Blue Jays. Gurriel went deep twice Wednesday and is hitting .304/.351/.615 on the season.
Gurriel, the younger brother of Astros infielder Yuli Gurriel, is 15 for 34 (.441) with three doubles and four home runs in his last seven games. The hot streak can make it hard to believe that, a little over one month ago, Gurriel was in Triple-A. He hit .175/.250/.275 in 13 April games and had serious throwing issues at second base. Gurriel was sent to the minors to reboot.
Since returning last month, the 25-year-old is hitting .347/.385/.727 with eight doubles and 12 home runs in 31 games. He has a new position as well. The Blue Jays moved Gurriel to left field and he has played well out there despite his inexperience. Gurriel has six outfield assists already — teams have of course tested the inexperienced outfielder and he’s responded well — and advanced defensive metrics are impressed.
“I put in a lot of time, a lot of work — working very hard in the outfield. I’m just trying to get better every day. And right now, I’m feeling very good out there,” Gurriel said through Blue Jays interpreter Hector Lebron. “It definitely feels great. I’m feeling good at the plate. I’m helping the team as much as I can to win games. And I’ll hopefully continue like that.”
Gurriel chalked up his offensive breakout to his offseason work — “It’s just the work I put in during the offseason. It’s the reason I’m putting up good numbers,” he told MLB.com’s Bill Ladson on Wednesday — though the position change could be contributing as well. He’s free from the stress of figuring out his second base throwing issues, and can instead focus on other things.
Position change or no position change, the single biggest difference between the current version of Gurriel and the previous version is his success against breaking balls. Breaking balls chewed him up last year and earlier this year. Now he’s crushing them. The numbers:
- 2018 and April 2019: .219 average and .323 slugging percentage
- Since recall from Triple-A: .364 average and .841 slugging percentage
I doubt Gurriel is a true talent .364 hitter (and .841 slugger!) against breaking balls. No one hits breaking balls that well long-term. Chances are those numbers will come back to Earth in the coming weeks. Gurriel has cut his swing-and-miss rate against breaking balls from 37.4 percent prior to demotion to 31.3 since being recalled though, and that’s a good sign. That’s progress.
Gurriel has always had bat speed and raw power, so the homer binge is not the most shocking thing in the world, especially not in this homer happy era. The move to left field solved his defensive issues and hey, maybe it’s helped his bat as well. Whatever it is, Gurriel is making the jump from interesting youngster to bone fide building block for the rebuilding Blue Jays this season.