BUFFALO, N.Y. – Over the past month at triple-A Buffalo, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s crash course in life as a super-utility player has included 10 games at second base, six in left field, four at shortstop and four as the designated hitter.
Thoughts on a future hopping all around the diamond?
“I’m good just playing – that’s what I love and I feel lucky they see that I can play different positions,” Gurriel says during an interview interpreted by Tanya Bialostozky, a Blue Jays mental performance coach. “That’s what every player wants, just to play and know you can play in different places. It is obviously hard, but I like the challenge and it helps me get better.”
Shifting around defensively is nothing new for the 25-year-old, although his recent reps in the outfield were his first since signing with the Toronto Blue Jays in November 2016. Gurriel hadn’t played there since logging 307 innings over 40 games in left field for Cuban club Industriales in 2015-16, but GM Ross Atkins said earlier this month his getting comfortable in the outfield “would give him more opportunity for more playing time” once back in the majors.
Gurriel took the introduction of outfield reps in stride after logging 50 innings of work in left and says, “I’m feeling ready and feeling good to be there.”
“It’s not very complicated, not very complex,” he adds. “It’s just about getting used to it, working on it, being there. The infield, that’s really complex. The outfield is easier for me.”
Gurriel started the season as the Blue Jays’ everyday second baseman but was optioned to Buffalo after making a routine throwing error for the second straight day and being pulled from an April 14 game against Tampa.
He’s played defence without issue since returning to Buffalo – on Wednesday night he played second and made a strong turn on a 5-4-3 double play and later ranged to his left, slid to field a groundball and threw to first for the out – but things have changed up in the majors.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s arrival has displaced Brandon Drury, who’s been sharing duty with Eric Sogard at second and getting some reps in the outfield, too. With the Blue Jays intending to continue using that duo at second, Gurriel needed to open up an additional pathway to at-bats.
Hence, aside from getting himself right at second, he’s had to re-acclimate to the outfield, creating a busy slate of daily pre-game work.
“I try not to get too tired or worn out so I check and see what position I’m going to be playing the next day so I come in and work on that,” says Gurriel. “I sometimes do early work on another position, too, and go back in there and work on the position I’m going to be playing that day.”
Gurriel did precisely that Wednesday, getting some early outfield work in with coach Devon White before batting practice before later taking some infield. At the same time, there’s been a focus on his offence, as his bat will ultimately determine the course of his big-league career.
He’s batting .299/.324/.536 with four homers and 11 doubles in 24 games after hitting .175/.250/.275 in 13 games with the Blue Jays, although he’d just started to show signs of emerging from a slow start when he was demoted.
“I’m always making adjustments, always finding ways to get better,” says Gurriel. “Here, they’ve talked about my approach and we’re working on still being aggressive but also controlling the strike zone better.”
As the Blue Jays keep looking for someone to give them offence, Gurriel may soon get the chance to test his work up in the majors again.