Cuban baseball stars defect during Caribbean tournament in Dominican Republic

baseball players defected

Yuliesky and Lourdes Gurriel defected in the Dominican Republic in the early hours of Monday. (Photo: Cuban News Agency)

 

HAVANA, Cuba, Wednesday February 10, 2016 – Two brothers from Cuba’s most celebrated baseball family have left a Cuban team touring the Dominican Republic, presumably to defect and seek professional careers in the United States.

Official Cuban media reports that Yulieski Gurriel, 31, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr, 22, left the hotel where a Cuban team had been staying “in full attitude of surrender to the merchants of for-profit professional baseball.”

The Gurriels had just concluded playing in the Caribbean Series featuring championship teams from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The Gurriels normally play for the Havana Industriales along with a third brother, Yunieski, but represented Ciego de Avila as reinforcements in the Caribbean Series.

Yulieski is considered Cuba’s top player, while Lourdes is considered the communist Caribbean state’s top prospect. Both have repeatedly expressed a desire to legally leave the country with permission from the Cuban government with tensions easing between them and the United States.

Fox News reports that Yulieski was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. As one of the nation’s most decorated players, he was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments.

He has been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships, International Cup and Caribbean Series.

He is considered major-league ready, and possibly could find a spot on a major league baseball roster this season. Playing mostly third base, he has been a career .333/.414/.577 hitter during his professional career.

The Cuban government recently allowed him to play in Nippon Professional Baseball batting .305/.349/.536 with 11 home runs in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars.

Lourdes, the younger of the two brothers, could face more obstacles before finding himself on a major-league roster due to his age. Should he sign before his 23rd birthday, he would be subject to international bonus pools, limiting which teams could sign him. After October 19, he would be free to sign with any club he chose.

During his short career, Lourdes has batted .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances. His numbers have steadily increased every year of his playing career, according to Fox.

The brothers come from a family of famous professional Cuban baseball players. Their oldest brother, Yunieski, 33, has won two MVP Awards in 16 seasons with Serie Nacional, and has spent the past two seasons playing for Quebec in the Canadian-American Association.

Their father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr, played for the Cuban national team for 15 years, winning a gold medal, two batting titles and an MVP award. More recently, he was a national team manager.

There were a record 150 baseball defections in Cuba in 2015, according to Cuban journalist Francys Romero, but the Gurriel brothers would be an exceptional loss because of their fame and because Yulieski had always been seen as a loyal player who had shunned potential riches in the United States.

While the MLB will eventually be getting two top talents in the majors with the brothers defecting, both will need to establish residency in a new country then be declared a free agent by MLB before any clubs can officially sign them.

Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation lack an agreement on player transfers because of the US trade embargo of Cuba. This is said to lead Cubans with big-league ambitions to defect.

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