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Lourdes Gurriel - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper


There are a multitude of reasons to like what Lourdes Gurriel has to offer at his currently very low draft price. The 25-year-old shortstop from Cuba is entering just his second MLB season after spending 2017 and about half of 2018 accelerating through Toronto’s minor league system.

He definitely impressed in his brief taste of the big leagues, hitting .281/.309/.446 with 11 home runs, 35 RBI, 30 runs scored, and one steal across 249 at-bats. His positional eligibility, secured path to playing time, and proven power-speed category production all point to Gurriel being a major sleeper to target for the upcoming fantasy season.

Gurriel is being overlooked in early drafts, going on 212th overall on average. For that reason, plus those listed below, he qualifies as a bona fide fantasy baseball sleeper.

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Supply and Demand

First, and probably most important, is the matter of Gurriel’s positional eligibility. He qualifies at both second base and shortstop, two positions that appear top-heavy but not necessarily deep. In early drafts, Gurriel is being drafted at 214th overall (2B18/SS26) and is ranked 199th overall (2B24/SS22) on RotoBaller.

Garrett Hampson, Willy Adames, and Andrelton Simmons are being drafted above Gurriel among shortstops, while Jonathan Schoop and Joey Wendle are being drafted before Gurriel among second baseman. This is not to say that those players can’t outperform Gurriel, but it is my belief that at this stage of the draft you want to target high-upside players rather than playing it safe. After all, this selection should be for a backup or utility slot, so why wouldn’t you take a calculated risk on the younger player with the higher upside?

 

Plate Appearances Matter

The next reason to like Lourdes Gurriel as a sleeper in 2019 is his secured path to playing time.  The Toronto Blue Jays have undergone a youth movement as they continue their rebuilding phase and seem very committed to giving their young players significant roles. Luckily, this includes Lourdes Gurriel.

The Blue Jays let go of shortstop Aledmys Diaz and signed veteran Eric Sogard, while Devon Travis is still on board as the team’s primary second baseman. Prospect Richard Urena also logged 99 at-bats for the Blue Jays last year but doesn’t figure to factor into the team's plans at shortstop. Sogard struggled mightily (.134/.241/.165 with Milwaukee) in 2018 and shouldn’t make an impact - if he even makes the MLB roster.

This all means that Gurriel should slot in as the team’s starting shortstop and receive a full complement of at-bats in a lineup that surprisingly ranked middle-of-the-pack in run and RBI production last year. This lineup includes Justin Smoak (.350 OBP), Teoscar Hernandez (.480 SLG, 20 HR), Randal Grichuk (.502 SLG, 25 HR), and Kendrys Morales (.438 SLG, 21 HR), which boosts his appeal, as does playing half of his games at Rogers Centre in Toronto (top half in Park Factor for runs and home runs, fifth for doubles).

 

Numbers Don't Lie

Last, but not least, are his statistics. As with most rookies, Gurriel struggled with adjusting to the elite pitching and patience required at the plate at the Major League level. His 0.15 BB/K, 3.4% walk rate, 22.4% strikeout rate and .309 OBP stand out as his most glaring issues. However, despite the walk and strikeout problems, Gurriel compiled impressive fantasy stats and advanced metrics in his 249 at-bats.

His .281 batting average and .446 slugging percentage both ranked in the top-12 among second basemen and shortstops in 2018, and he had a .322 and .293 batting average in AA and AAA, respectively. He also posted a respectable .165 ISO, which measures a hitter’s raw power and tells how often a player hits for extra bases.

Additionally, Gurriel ranked 36th in hard-hit percentage at 45.1%, 58th in average exit velocity at 90.3 MPH, and 127th in barrels per batted ball event (ahead of Alex Bregman and Justin Turner). Projection site Steamer has Gurriel pegged for a .266/.301/.428 slash line in 2019, adding 20 home runs, 70 RBI, 70 runs scored, and seven steals. That doesn't make a league-winner but it is nice high-end middle infielder to tab in the later rounds.

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about Gurriel’s sleeper prospects heading into 2019 fantasy drafts. He will have a whole off-season with the MLB club under his belt, and his strikeout and walk rates should improve as he continues to adjust to the higher level of pitching. Target the young slugger as a backup SS/2B/UTIL player with the potential to emerge as a hidden gem for your squad - 25 home runs and 10 steals while remaining a plus in batting average is definitely within the realm of possibility.

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