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Is the World Ready for Gourriel?

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Let's try to project the soon-to-be Cuban baseball superstar.

The Next Big Thing. Showcasing in September.
The Next Big Thing. Showcasing in September.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Yulieski Gourriel, the Cuban baseball superstar's MLB debut is getting closer. He apparently delayed the entertainment by hitting meager .118/.158/.118 at the Double-A level, but I'm sure everyone will forget about those 19 PA soon enough, once he juices up his numbers during his short stint with the Fresno Grizzlies (11 players from this PCL team have played in MLB this season, and they combined .283/.356/.458 for the Grizzlies). At this point, the Cuban veteran's minor league numbers aren't very important. His 15 seasons of playing in the competitive Cuban National Series (CNS) provide us enough samples to play around.

Projecting a foreign player is certainly a challenging subject, especially if that someone is already 32 years of age. In 2015, his last season in CNS, however, he pretty much set his career highs in every category as he hit jaw dropping .500/.589/.874 in 49 games. Even if his aging process has started, we have no proof yet. It's nearly impossible to cover every single variable that can impact his performance in this short article, so I will go ahead and make a big assumption that despite his age, his skill level is still at its peak.

We have watched several Cuban players come and go for last several years, but there are really only two active players who we can actually relate to Gourriel: Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Abreu. Other well-known players like Yasiel Puig or Kendrys Morales's CNS numbers aren't either large or recent enough for a comparison (or guys like Yunel Escobar are totally different types of players). Yasmany Tomas comes pretty close, but he is too young, and he wasn't as dominant as the other three when he played in Cuba.

Player

Lg

AVG

OBP

SLG

Yoenis Cespedes

CNS

0.319

0.404

0.585

MLB

0.273

0.325

0.494

Diff

-14%

-20%

-16%

Jose Abreu

CNS

0.341

0.456

0.622

MLB

0.296

0.356

0.509

Diff

-13%

-22%

-18%

Average

Diff

-14%

-21%

-17%

Let's start with a very simple stuff.  As we can see from the above table, their triple slashes has suffered since they came over to the US. It's not the most sophisticated way to derive a projection, but Gourriel does own a similar looking slash as these two did in Cuba, and both Cespedes and Abreu's percentage drops do resemble each other's.

Player

Lg

AVG

OBP

SLG

Yulieski Gourriel

CNS

0.338

0.421

0.584

Proj. MLB

0.291

0.333

0.486

If we apply their average percentage drop to Gourriel's numbers, we come up with a very reasonable .291/.333/.486 projection. Is this accurate enough? No, but this is a good starting point.

One number that stands out from this exercise is the drop in OBP. Not only Cespedes and Abreu, but also Tomas experienced similarly noticeable drop in that category.

Player

Lg

BABIP

BB%

K%

Yoenis Cespedes

CNS

0.322

10%

13%

MLB

0.307

7%

21%

Diff

-5%

-35%

67%

Jose Abreu

CNS

0.362

12%

15%

MLB

0.338

7%

20%

Diff

-7%

-43%

33%

Yasmany Tomas

CNS

0.315

8%

18%

MLB

0.327

5%

25%

Diff

4%

-37%

40%

Average

Diff

-2%

-39%

46%

The interesting thing from the above table is that while all three players lost huge points in plate discipline (K-BB), their BABIP relatively stayed same. Obviously we are looking at only three players, but we can make a pretty good assumption here that the CNS's defense or stadium conditions don't necessary benefit in play balls significantly more. This is crucial because Gourriel's strength directly applies here. He is the only player among these four whose K% is lower than his BB% in Cuba, and his 7% K-rate indicates his superior contact skill (11% BB-rate).

Player

Lg

BABIP

BB%

K%

Yulieski Gourriel

CNS

0.325

11%

7%

Proj. MLB

0.317

7%

11%

Therefore, the inevitable surge in K% wouldn't impact his overall performance as much as it did to the others'. In other words, his aggressive approach at the plate can potentially mitigate the drop in OBP. I did all the miscellaneous calculation for you and came up with little better projection using his projected BABIP, BB%, and K%. I will spare you the boring details (you're welcome).

Player

Lg

AVG

OBP

SLG

Yulieski Gourriel

CNS

0.338

0.421

0.584

Revised Projection

0.305

0.358

0.500

Obviously I made a lot of presumptions to come up with these result, so I won't say trust these numbers down to three decimal points. This is nothing more than a rough ballpark estimate, and there are unlimited numbers of variables that can impact his performance. There is no right answer here.

In summary, I believe there is a good chance of him putting up better MLB numbers than any other Cuban predecessors did. As long as his 32-year-old body can handle the longer and more demanding 162-game season (which is a lot to ask), he can certainly benefit from the hitter friendly Minute Maid Park and weak AL West pitching. He should also put up a respectable SB number (In Cuba, Cespedes: 10.6 SB per 600 PA. Gourriel: 13.5), so we could be looking at potential 5-cat Fantasy superstar in the making.

Without question, this is all based on a big assumption that his body is still durable enough for all the baseball activities. Did he age gracefully like Ryan Bruan did, or is he on the verge of a breakdown season like Jacoby Ellsbury's? We will find out soon enough.