Fantasy Outlook: Cuban Defectors
Two days ago we heard rumblings of Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw, and Jon Jay, among others, visiting Cuba to speak with the Gourriel brothers. Both Yulieski and Lourdes Jr. have remained committed to staying in Cuba for years, where their father is a national legend and their family has deep ties to the government. That all changed quickly, as they changed the spelling of their last name to Gurriel then announced their defection today. As mentioned in my Future International Prospects piece, the older brother, Yulieski Gurriel may very well be the best hitter in the world. His brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., may be a future MLB all-star in his own right. Their announcement will send huge waves into the baseball world and leave front offices scrambling to make room in their budget for the superstars. Lets take a look at the brothers and another top Cuban player that defected two weeks ago, Alexei Bell.
The older brother was graded as the No. 136 prospect worldwide despite the common opinion that he would never play a game in the states. It is difficult to give a prospect ranking to a 31-year-old, but let me just put it this way: he may be the best hitter in the world. The Cuban season goes through winter, and when he decided to leave he was hitting .535/.604/1.012 with 10 HR, 11 doubles and just ONE strikeout in 106 PA. None of those stats are typos. For comparison, Jose Abreu hit .345/.481/.617 with 39 K in 264 at-bats the season before he defected and was an MLB MVP candidate. We have a very special player on our hands. Another Miguel Cabrera, perhaps, and it is only fitting that he plays third base. His value will fluctuate depending on which team he signs with and how quickly that happens. When he signs for far less than Jason Heyward, don’t be discouraged, as MLB teams are much less likely to take a “risk” on an “unknown” commodity, especially one that is 31 years old. None of that will change the fact that you can get a first-round fantasy talent in the eighth round or later this season.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
I listed the 22-year-old shortstop No. 85 on the worldwide list, but with his defection, I’d bump him all the way up to No. 14 ahead of the Cubs, Gleybar Torres. There are not many 22-year-olds that could start for a big league team this April, but Lourdes Jr.’s bat has him ready. His age makes for a unique situation, however, as some teams are ineligible to sign him because they spend more money during this international signing period on players under 23. Some believe that the younger brother may weight until July 2nd so he can sign with one of a handful of teams who consistently spend significant money on international imports. His situation is worth monitoring in the fantasy world, but at 22, he won’t make a significant impact. The most likely scenario is that he signs in March, is sent to Double-A to learn the language American-lifestyle and American-game, then is called up around the all-star break where he would prove to be a similar hitter to Josh Reddick. Further down the road, his ceiling may be closer to Raul Mondesi, yet potentially qualifying at SS, 3B, 2B, OF and 1B. Needless to say, he is an extremely useful piece to own in dynasty leagues.
This 32-year-old outfielder is very reminiscent of MLB’s Matt Holliday. Like the Cardinals slugger, Bell is on the downswing of his career and losing power quickly, but both players will contribute as useful MLB starters and fringe fantasy relevant players. In his prime, Bell hit .355/.454/.722 with 31 HR and 25 SB in their 90 game season. Translating to MLB, where depth is significantly more prevalent, he would have likely been a .310 hitter with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases. This season we must tame our expectations to about .280/.360/.420 type production with 10 homers and 10 steals. Keep an eye on where he signs, because if it is with a lineup like Colorado, Detroit, Toronto, and Chicago, he could score a lot of runs with that lofty on-base percentage and his strong base-running instincts. You will not find him anywhere on my international imports list or top-400 worldwide prospects list because I thought he would never come over, and if he did, 2016 might have been his final fantasy relevant season. Good for him, getting his chance to live out his dream before his career ran out.