The Houston Astros have no shortage of offensive talent as they make their push to win the 2017 World Series. One of them, however, wasn’t necessarily in the team’s plans.
Yuli Gurriel holds down first base for the Astros, but in June of 2014, as the core group of Houston players were coming up to the big leagues, the Astros had the position earmarked for another player. Jon Singleton. The Astros were so confident in Singleton, their farm system’s top prospect, that they signed him to a five-year contract the day before he made his MLB debut. Singleton ultimately fizzled, and spent much of 2017 with Houston’s AA club.
Gurriel was considered baseball royalty in his native Cuba, the son of another international Cuban baseball standout. Because of this, Gurriel was seen as a low risk to defect. But as he watched a steady succession of his teammates leave for America and the major leagues, he wondered if he was missing out on an opportunity at bigger and better things.
Still, Gurriel felt the pull of the Major Leagues, wondering if he had what it took to succeed on this biggest stage. After being held back by the love of his homeland and family expectations, in 2016 things changed for the star. At the age of 32, with his younger brother with him, Gurriel defected after competing in the Caribbean World Series in the Dominican Republic.
When Gurriel signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Astros in July of 2016, it was clear he was going to get his shot.
“It was always a really hard decision to make,” said Javier Bracamonte, the Astros’ bullpen catcher who serves as interpreter for Gurriel. “Time was passing him by, and it was more an illusion to him to come to play in the big leagues. He made that big decision: It was now or never.”
Now for Gurriel includes big moments in Game 3 and Game 5. Gurriel broke a 0-0 tie in the second inning versus Yu Darvish with a solo homer. In the bottom of the fourth inning Sunday night, Gurriel crushed a three-run homer off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game at four.
Two big moments on baseball’s biggest stage have made the waiting worthwhile for Gurriel.