Cuba’s Yuliesky Gourriel hopes to play in MLB someday

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Speaking after his Cuban team was eliminated from Caribbean Series play, third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel said he’s still hoping a path opens up that allows him to play in the U.S. someday.

MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez has the story.

“I’m happy for all the Cubans in the major leagues and we follow them even though we don’t have direct contact with them,” he said. “In Cuba, we play a good level of baseball, but when they leave the country, they seem to elevate their game. Maybe we don’t have best training conditions or equipment, but once they leave Cuba, they explode. Me, I’m just waiting on permission.”

Gourriel, who debuted in Cuba’s top league as an 17-year-old in 2002, has never attempted to defect. As Sanchez puts it, Gourriel’s parents “have close ties to the island’s communist party.” Six or eight years ago, he might have been a major league team’s No. 1 pick in an imaginary draft of Cuba’s top talent. He’s 29 and coming off one of his worst seasons, so he wouldn’t be quite so highly sought after now. Still, he’d almost certainly be a quality regular at third base in the majors.

Gourriel has his best season in Cuba in 2009, when he hit .399/.474/.710 with 22 homers in 328 at-bats. He helped Cuba bring home the gold in the 2004 Olympics, and he’s hit .293 with five homers in 82 at-bats in the three World Baseball Classics.