Sanchez: Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel defect from Cuba

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

Brothers Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have defected from Cuba and are looking to sign with MLB teams, reports Jesse Sanchez. They’ve gone by Gourriel in the past but dropped the “o” a few years back. Along with Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, the Gurriel brothers are arguably two of the three best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.

The Gurriels defected Sunday while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Both have expressed interest in coming to MLB over the years but did not want to betray the Cuban government. So either the Gurriels changed their minds and left, or the government let them leave a la Yoan Moncada. Either way, both have to go through the process of establishing residency in another country, being cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then being declared a free agent by MLB before they can sign. The whole process could take months.

Lourdes, 22, is the more significant player of the two because of his age, and the timing of the unblocking process and declaration of free agency could be crucial for him. He is subject to MLB’s spending restrictions, so if he is cleared soon, he can be signed as part of the 2015-16 international period. That means big spenders like the Dodgers, Giants, Blue Jays, and Cubs can still bid since they are already over their bonus pools for the current signing period.

But, if Gurriel is not cleared until after July 1st, those clubs as well as the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox would be out on him because they’re limited to bonuses of no more than $300,000 as a result of the penalties for exceeding their signing pools in recent years. Lourdes could wait until his birthday in October to sign and probably will, now that I think about it. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the spending pools. Any team could pay him whatever they want at that point.

Lourdes is considered capable of playing shortstop, though he has played mostly first and second base in Cuba in deference to veteran players. He was hitting .321/.387/.537 with eight homers in 43 games during the Cuban season prior to defecting. Here are his career stats via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2010 16 -9.8 Sancti Spiritus 16 16 3 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 4 .200 .250 .400 .650
2011 17 -9.2 Sancti Spiritus 55 151 30 6 0 3 16 2 2 13 23 .227 .304 .341 .645
2012 18 -8.4 Sancti Spiritus 67 244 55 12 3 4 32 1 0 18 35 .253 .318 .392 .710
2013 19 -8.5 Industriales 45 184 31 6 1 1 17 5 5 36 23 .218 .379 .296 .675
2014 20 -6.9 Industriales 63 258 68 11 0 8 42 7 4 28 28 .308 .388 .466 .854
2015 21 Industriales 43 183 52 11 0 8 32 5 1 16 21 .321 .387 .537 .924
All Levels (6 Seasons) 289 1036 239 46 4 25 140 20 13 112 134 .269 .355 .414 .769

Back in April, Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Lourdes as the fourth best player in Cuba, saying his “game is comparable to a young Ryan Zimmerman.” Here’s a snippet of Badler’s scouting report:

Gourriel has plenty of bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and the plate coverage to make frequent contact. He can have trouble at times against slow breaking balls, but he has good strike-zone discipline and a patient approach, giving him a chance to be a plus hitter with a high OBP. Gourriel flashes above-average raw power with the swing path to generate backspin and leverage the ball for loft in games, making him a 20-homer threat.

Yulieski, 31, is a second and third baseman and has been the best player in Cuba for several years now. He was hitting .535/.604/1.012 with ten homers, 15 walks, and one strikeout in 23 games for Industriales before defecting. He spent the 2014 season with the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan — the Cuban government allows players to play overseas in Asia — and hit .305/.349/.536 with eleven homers in 63 games. Here’s some video:

You can see Yulieski’s career stats at Baseball Reference. Badler ranked him as the top player in Cuba last April, saying he “would have similar value to Hanley Ramirez and David Wright in terms of age and offensive performance if he were to leave Cuba to pursue a major league contract.” Being comped to Hanley and Wright sounded better last April than it does right now. Here’s a little more from Badler:

He has plus bat speed and squares up all types of pitches with good hand-eye coordination and barrel control. He wraps his barrel behind his head, angling the bat toward the pitcher, but he gets the barrel into the hitting zone quickly and has good plate coverage. He stays within the strike zone and uses the whole field, and with plus raw power on the 20-80 scale, he offers a balance of being able to hit for average, get on base and hit for power.

Last year Yulieski said he wants to play for the Yankees because his favorite player is Alex Rodriguez, which is neat. The elder Gurriel will be a true free agent free to sign with any team for any amount once he’s given the thumbs up. Hector Olivera, who signed with the Dodgers at age 30 last year, received a six-year contract worth $62.5M. Yulieski figures to receive more because he’s a better player and doesn’t have Olivera’s injury history.

Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Lourdes is the big one though. If he decides to sign before his 23rd birthday, he’s looking at Moncada’s bonus ($31.5M) plus more due to inflation and the fact he’s closer to MLB ready. If he waits until his 23rd birthday, Lourdes could receive a contract in line with the six-year, $68.5M deal Yasmany Tomas took with the D’Backs. Tomas signed that deal at 24 but was also an inferior player, so adjust up some amount. He’s going to wait until his birthday in October so he’s not subject to the spending pools, right? Makes too much sense.

The Yankees would have use for both Gurriel brothers, especially Lourdes because he’s so young. They’d have to hope he waits until October to sign, in which case he’d get a big league contract that would screw up their luxury tax plan, but that should be a minor consideration. If you can get a potential star caliber up-the-middle player in his early-20s for nothing but money, you do it. Surely they have some level of Moncada regret, which could be a factor in their pursuit of the younger Gurriel brother.

Yulieski would be interesting too. He could potentially fill a Ben Zobrist-esque supersub role — he has experience in the outfield as well as second and third bases — or even take over as a starter at second or third. Who knows what the roster will look like in a few months? The Yankees are not going to want to pay huge money for a player who will be 32 in June, especially since he’s unproven at the MLB level. Does he want to play with A-Rod bad enough to take a discount? Developing!

Fan Confidence Poll: February 8th, 2016

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

I didn’t have much time to read anything this week — Retro Week posts take longer to research and write than regular posts — so I don’t have any links to pass along this weekend. I do recommend checking out this series of articles by the MLB.com reporters. They asked various GMs about the trades they most regret. Brian Cashman said … you’ll have to click to find out. Fun series.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, and that’s pretty much it tonight. No college hoops. Talk about those games, the trades the GMs regret, or anything else.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Islanders are wrapping up their game right now and the Nets are playing tonight. There’s also a whole bunch of college basketball on the schedule too. Have at it.

Sunday: For the last time, this is the open thread. As you know, the Super Bowl is tonight (Panthers vs. Broncos, 6:30pm ET on CBS). The Islanders are finishing up their game right now and there’s some college hoops going on too, but once the Super Bowl starts, that’s it. It’s the only game in town. Enjoy.

Minor League Notes: Mateo, Garcia, Signings, Releases

 
The video above is OF Aaron Judge discussing his experience at MLB’s annual rookie development camp. SS Tyler Wade was there as well. I saw him walking around in the video. Not sure who else was there. I’ve got a whole bunch of minor league notes and links and whatnot that I’ve been collecting for the last few weeks, so I’m going to dump them all here in this post. Enjoy.

Mateo rated fastest runner, toolsiest infield prospect

Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo looked at the toolsiest prospects in the minors. He simply added up each player’s 20-80 scouting scale grades in the five tool categories on their top 100 prospects list. SS Jorge Mateo came in third behind only Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals OF Victor Robles. Mateo is the toolsiest infielder on the top 100. I don’t necessarily agree with adding 20-80 grades — 60 hit/60 power is definitely not the same as 80 hit/40 power even though they both add up to 120 hitpower (?), for example — but that’s what Mayo did, and Mateo scored well. Hooray.

Also, Jim Callis examined the top individual tools in the minors, and Mateo is listed as having the best speed. “Mateo has outstanding raw speed — he can go from the right side of the plate to first base in less than four seconds — but he’s more than just a raw speedster,” said the write-up. “He has succeeded on 83 percent of his steal attempts as a pro and led the Minors with 82 in 2015, his first year in full-season ball. Mateo’s quickness gives him plenty of range at shortstop, and he also exhibits some surprising power potential during batting practice.”

Garcia a potential top 100 prospect for 2017

The crew at Baseball Prospectus released their top 101 prospects list last week, and earlier this week they looked at ten players who were not on this year’s top 100, but could jump into next year’s. SS Wilkerman Garcia is among the ten listed. The article is free. You don’t need a subscription. Here’s a snippet of their write-up:

He is the complete package up the middle, with some of the smoothest hands you’ll see from an 17-year-old, and the arm and range to stick at short for the long haul. Garcia is still raw at the plate, but he’s a switch-hitter with some feel for the barrel from both sides. That is a nice little top-prospect starter kit. The one thing he is lacking right now is a track record outside of the complex, something he will remedy this season.

I feel like each Garcia scouting report is better than the last, which is cool, but it’s also the offseason, so I’m not really sure what changed. Either way, Wilkerman is an exciting prospect and so far the best to come out of the Yankees’ massive 2014-15 international spending spree, though it’s still super early.

Minor League Ball’s top 20 Yankees prospects

John Sickels at Minor League Ball published his annual list of the top 20 Yankees prospects a few days ago. You already know who the top four guys are. We could argue the order for days but the top four are clearly the top four. RHP Domingo Acevedo comes in at No. 5. He seems to be a very divisive prospect. Some people are super high on him. Others … eh. Sickels seems to be pretty high on SS Kyle Holder, who he ranks ninth in the system. I don’t think you’ll see Holder ranked that high anywhere else this prospect season.

Yankees sign four players, release 13 others

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed the following minor league free agents: RHP Tyler Cloyd, 3B Deibinson Romero, OF Jared Mitchell, and RHP Wandy Soto. They have also released the following players, per Eddy: C Isaias Tejeda, 2B Angelo Gumbs, IF Bryan Cuevas, OF Jordan Barnes, OF Griff Gordon, OF Jose Infante, OF Teodoro Martinez, RHP Gean Batista, RHP Francis Joseph, RHP Matt Borens, RHP Lee Casas, RHP Taylor Garrison, and RHP Corey Holmes.

Cloyd and Romero both received invitations to Spring Training after spending last season in Korea. The 28-year-old Cloyd had a 5.81 ERA in 159.2 innings for the Samsung Lions while the 29-year-old Romero hit .253/.328/.449 with 12 homers. I should note the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league averages in 2015 were a 4.90 ERA and a .279/.356/.429 batting line. Mitchell, 27, hit .209/.298/.308 in 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A with the Angels and White Sox in 2015. Both Cloyd and Romero are Triple-A depth. Romero’s mostly a third baseman but has played a bunch of first over the years, so he’ll help fill the gap created by Greg Bird‘s injury. Mitchell, a former first round pick, is probably going to Double-A.

Among the released players, the most notable is Gumbs. He was New York’s second round pick out of a California high school in 2010. Gumbs was one of those super toolsy prospects with a ton of upside who was crazy raw. He played quite well with Low-A Charleston in 2012 (.272/.320/.432) but he’s had some injury problems in recent years and just stopped hitting. Gumbs put up a .176/.224/.213 line with High-A Tampa last year.

Links: IFAs, AzFL Review, Mahoney

Here are a couple stray links I have lying around that are worth checking out. So go check them out:

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Judge, Mateo, Kaprielian headline 2016 Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees for the 2016 season. A total of 25 non-roster players were invited, so add in the guys on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees will have a total of 65 players in Spring Training this year. Last season they had 68.

Here are the 25 non-roster players who will be in Tampa this spring. As always, everyone on the 40-man roster will be there as well.

CATCHERS (6)
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Sebastian Valle
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS (6)
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Jorge Mateo
Deibinson Romero (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
Donovan Solano
Tyler Wade

OUTFIELDERS (3)
Dustin Fowler
Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

PITCHERS (10)
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
RHP Domingo German (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
RHP Chad Green
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously some players have a much better chance of making the Yankees than others. Mateo, for example, has close to zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’ll be in camp so the big league coaching staff can get a firsthand look at arguably the top prospect in the organization. The same applies to Kaprielian, last summer’s first round pick, and Judge.

Right now the Yankees have five open big league roster spots: three in the bullpen, the backup catcher, and the final bench spot. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are the main candidates for the backup backstop job along with Corporan. It seems like the Yankees want Sanchez to be the guy, but there are service time reasons to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks (35 days in Triple-A equals an extra year of team control). All those extra catchers will be in camp to help catch bullpens and stuff.

Brian Cashman has confirmed the Yankees intendt the use their final bench spot as something of revolving door. They want to rotate players in and out based on their needs at the time, and that includes adding an eighth reliever on occasion. Remember, position battles do not end when Spring Training is over. Whoever gets those three bullpen spots and the two bench spots will have to produce during the regular season to keep the job.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Thursday, February 18th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. Position players will report on Wednesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout will follow on February 25th.

Back on Top of the Baseball World: Doc Gooden’s No-Hitter

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s easy to forget Doc Gooden was only 31 when he signed with the Yankees prior to the 1996 season. He broke in with the Mets at age 19 and was a sensation. George Steinbrenner wanted a 19-year-old stud of his own, which led to Jose Rijo being brought up in 1984, but that didn’t work out too well. Gooden was a star in the 1980s and the Mets were the toast of New York.

By 1990 things had turned south for the Mets and Gooden. He had drug problems and got hurt, and his performance suffered. Gooden was suspended 60 days after testing positive for cocaine in 1994, then, while serving the suspension, he tested positive again. MLB suspended him for the entire 1995 season. Gooden threw 41.1 total innings from 1994-95 — his age 29-30 seasons — due to the suspensions.

The Boss loved giving second chances and he loved needling the Mets. Gooden’s suspension ended on October 1st, 1995, and he threw for scouts shortly thereafter. The Yankees signed him almost immediately. Steinbrenner gave Gooden what amounted to a one-year contract with two option years. He would be paid $1M in 1996, then $2M in 1997 and $3M in 1998 should the team decide to keep him.

The contract was rather complicated because of Gooden’s history, and in fact it did not become official until February. Per the terms of the deal, Gooden had to be drug tested three times a week and stay in a 12-step program. Steinbrenner said he was “very impressed with the sincerity of Dwight’s commitment to restructuring his life” in a statement. “Being a Yankee is a dream come true for me. A year ago, I hit rock bottom. Now I’m a Yankee,” said Doc to Jack Curry.

Gooden joined David Cone, Jimmy Key, Andy Pettitte, and Kenny Rogers in the 1996 Opening Day rotation. Gooden started the fourth game of the season and it did not go well. He allowed five runs in five innings against the Rangers. Six days later he allowed six runs in 5.1 innings to that same Rangers team. Six days after that Gooden allowed six runs in three innings against the Twins. He allowed 17 runs and 33 base-runners in his first 13.1 innings of 1996.

The Yankees temporarily moved Gooden to the bullpen and gave Scott Kamieniecki a spot start. There was also talk of sending him to the minors for more work after he missed the entire 1995 season and barely pitched in 1994. That didn’t happen. Gooden never did pitch in relief but he did go a week between starts in late-April. On April 27th, in his fourth start of the year, he held the Twins to one run in six innings. He struck out seven.

With that start, Gooden had earned his way back into the rotation. Of course, David Cone came down with his aneurysm a few days later, so Gooden was likely headed back to the rotation no matter what. He threw six shutout innings against the White Sox on May 3rd, albeit with more walks (six) than strikeouts (four), then held the Tigers to two runs in eight innings on May 8th. That was three very good starts in a row after three ugly starts to open the season.

The Yankees were at home on May 14th, a Tuesday, and the Mariners were in town for a quick two-game series. New York had lost three of their last four games and needed Gooden to stop the bleeding. The Mariners had baseball’s best offense — they scored 993 runs in 1996, 32 more than any other team — led by Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner. The lineup they sent out that night was nutso.

  1. Darren Bragg — 110 OPS+ in 1996
  2. A-Rod — 161 OPS+
  3. Griffey — 154 OPS+
  4. Martinez — 167 OPS+
  5. Buhner — 131 OPS+
  6. Paul Sorrento — 121 OPS+
  7. Dan Wilson — 95 OPS+
  8. Joey Cora — 91 OPS+
  9. Russ Davis — 74 OPS+

The bottom of the order wasn’t so bad, but spots one through six? Forget it. Murderer’s Row. Seattle had Hall of Fame caliber hitters batting second, third, and fourth. It’s no surprise the game started ominously for Gooden. He walked Bragg to leadoff the first inning, then Rodriguez ripped a line drive to center field that miraculously turned into a double play. Check it out:

Gerald Williams got all twisted around but was still able to make the catch and turn the double play because Bragg was unable to get back to first base in time to tag up. Gooden started the game with a walk and loud contact. Griffey then walked as the third batter, and Buhner lined out to right field as the fourth batter. Two walks and two loud contacts in the first inning. But no hits and no runs.

Gooden walked a batter in the second inning and another in the third inning before really settling down. He retired seven in a row and 16 of 17 after the third inning walk. (The one base-runner came on a Tino Martinez error. He bobbled a ground ball at first base.) After eight innings and 109 pitches, a 31-year-old but very much not in his prime Doc Gooden had held the juggernaut Seattle offense hitless.

Without looking back at the play-by-play of every no-hitter in history, I’m guessing the ninth inning of Gooden’s no-hitter against the Mariners that night was one of the toughest final innings of a no-no in baseball history. I remember watching the game live and it was so very clear Gooden was out of gas. He was running on fumes. The Yankees led 2-0, so the game was close, yet John Wetteland had not even warmed up before the start of the ninth.

The first batter of that ninth inning, A-Rod, drew a six-pitch walk after Gooden jumped ahead in the count 1-2. Griffey ripped a ground ball that Tino grabbed, then dove headfirst into first base to get the out. “It was the only way I could get him,” said Martinez to Curry after the game. Edgar Martinez followed with a six-pitch walk to put the tying run on base. Gooden’s first pitch to Buhner skipped away from catcher Joe Girardi, allowing the runners to move. Now the tying run was in scoring position with one out.

The game was very much on the line now. Gooden had thrown 125 pitches up to that point and there was nothing in the tank. Wetteland had started to warm in the bullpen, but by that point it seemed moot. The speedy Rich Amaral pinch-ran for Martinez at second base, so Gooden was either going to complete the no-hitter, or he was going to give up the game-tying base hit. There was no middle ground.

Jay Buhner was at the plate, and Jay Buhner was one of the most menacing looking dudes who have ever played the game. Plus he always torched the Yankees. He made them regret the Ken Phelps trade every chance he could get. Gooden fell behind in the count 2-1 to Buhner, then was able to pick off the corner with a fastball for strike two. On his 130th pitch of the night, Doc threw a fastball by Buhner for strike three. That was … unexpected.

Gooden was one out away from the no-hitter, yet danger still loomed because the tying run was at second base. Paul Sorrento was the batter, and he swung through the first pitch of the at-bat for strike one. Gooden missed with the next two pitches and was again behind in the count 2-1. If not for the no-hit bid, Doc would have been out of the game long ago, and the now warm Wetteland would be on the mound. History was made on Gooden’s 134th pitch of the night.

After sitting out the entire 1995 season and basically having his playing career left for dead, Gooden was lifted up and sat on the shoulders of Tim Raines, Jim Leyritz, and other teammates, having tossed a no-hitter against the best lineup in baseball at the old Yankee Stadium.

“(The final out), it’s something that just goes through you. I can’t describe it. It’s something that happens. I never had it before,” said Gooden after the game, after Griffey interrupted his press conference to give him a hug. “In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this. This is sweet.”

Gooden threw 134 pitches in the no-hitter, and he did it while knowing his father would undergo open-heart surgery the next day. “Hopefully he knows about it,” said Doc, who left the team after the game to go home to Florida to be with his father. “You’ve seen a guy have a second chance with his career,” said Torre after the game. “It’s so satisfying.”

The rest of the season did not go so well for Gooden — he had a 5.19 ERA in 22 starts and 128.1 innings after the no-hitter — and he was left off the postseason roster. For that one night in May, less than two months after returning from close to a two-year layoff, Doc was on top of the baseball world, having thrown a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium.

“I think this is the greatest feeling, especially because I did it in New York,” he said. “With all I’ve been through and all the stuff that has gone in, this is the greatest feeling.”