TORONTO – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been a treat to watch for Toronto Blue Jays fans all season long, but it’s still not exactly clear what he is as a big-league player.
Gurriel can play at this level. He’s got positional versatility, he’s a good athlete, and he can make hard contact with some consistency. The primary concern holding him back, though, is his plate discipline.
The 24-year-old rookie brought a 3.6 percent walk rate and 22 percent strikeout rate into Friday’s 11-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Those kind of numbers generally require a guy to have really good power to consistently be an offensive plus. Gurriel has displayed average power this season (.148 ISO) and has overproduced his profile by running up a high batting average on balls in play. Although he’s earned a high line drive rate and few popups, it’s hard to say if it’s a sustainable profile going forward.
That’s why it’s so encouraging for the Blue Jays to see Gurriel flashing the kind of power they haven’t seen from him before — like he did in Friday’s two-homer effort. The night matched that of his brother, Yuli, who also managed two home runs in a playoff-clinching win for the Houston Astros.
“Somebody told him [Yuli] hit two. He said ‘might as well hit three,'” manager John Gibbons recalled after the game. “Word travels fast in this game.”
While Lourdes wasn’t able to make good on that statement the outing was special, not just because of the brotherly connection. It wasn’t that he hit two round trippers — he did that already back in July — it was the quality of the shots.
His first-inning drive was truly a feat of strength. It rocketed off the bat at 104.1 mph and travelled a gaudy 450 feet — seemingly in the blink of an eye.
The home run was his longest of the year by 17 feet and came off a 99 mph fastball from Diego Castillo. You aren’t going to see a more over demonstration of top-notch bat speed than that.
Gurriel’s second shot of the afternoon was modest only by comparison. The Cuban infielder took a cutter unwisely left upstairs by Jalen Beeks and absolutely crunched it to centre for an enormous 417-foot blast.
What both of these hits have in common, in broad strokes, is their location. Home runs to the deepest part of the ballpark are the most impressive and they are notable coming from Gurriel because we haven’t seen them before at this level.
Gurriel has been no chump when it comes to hitting impressive homers so far in his young career, but he’s done his damage to the pull side. Here’s what the nine home runs he hit this season prior to Friday looked like:
Whenever a young player does something new in the majors, it’s exciting. If he does it twice in the same game that’s even better. From one game it’s impossible to tell if we can expect Gurriel to drive it up the middle with authority often. Before Friday we weren’t sure he could do it at all, though.
Next season Gurriel could be a starter, a super utility player, or even just a regular utility player depending on how things shake out. His power potential will go a long way towards determining what role he claims on this club.
Prior to Friday his power already had a tantalizing ceiling, but with two big swings of the bat, he’s raised it at least a couple of inches.
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