Lourdes Gurriel Jr. defies the odds in impressive Blue Jays debut

It’s uncommon for a prospect to skip Triple-A. It’s even rarer when that player knocks in three runs in his major league debut.

NEW YORK — It’s uncommon for a prospect to skip Triple-A. It’s even rarer when that player knocks in three runs in his major league debut.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did exactly that on Friday night, though. Called up from New Hampshire earlier in the day, the Blue Jays second baseman introduced himself to The Show with two go-ahead singles at Yankee Stadium in an 8-5 Toronto win. The first rip — the first hit of Gurriel’s career — led him to cross his arms over his chest as he reached base.

He then looked toward the sky, the expression on his face one of pure jubilation. The odds defied, countless thoughts were racing through his mind.

“All that I’ve been through to get here, to get to that moment. My family, all the sacrifices I made, my friends, my brothers. Just all of that, in one moment, was amazing,” Gurriel Jr. said. “I was just happy to get the call and be here, whatever the situation was. Of course, I was pretty happy to know that I was playing right away. They told me as soon as they called me.”

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Gurriel Jr.’s story has never been one of likelihood. A native of Cuba, he imagined playing baseball in America while growing up on the secluded island. Lourdes Sr. was a national star, winning gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but his sons had even higher aspirations — albeit more dangerous ones.

Gurriel Jr. was just 22 years old when he left the only home he had ever known. He and his brother, Yuli, defected in February 2016, risking everything for a shot at the big leagues.

“For us, that was our dream since we were pretty young,” Gurriel Jr. said.

“It’s a difficult decision (to defect) because of your family. You don’t know what’s going to happen with them. Thank God, everything went well and I’m happy to be here right now.”

Yuli, several years older, was given a near-immediate crack at the majors. He debuted with the Astros in 2016 and was a top-five finisher for AL Rookie of the Year last season despite being 33. His first full season ended with a World Series championship.

Gurriel Jr., however, was subjected to a lengthier stay in the minors. He had to prove himself given his age, but he’s been using Yuli’s success as motivation.

“I’m always trying to follow his steps,” the younger brother said.

It wasn’t long ago that Gurriel Jr. had to overcome his age with Sancti Spíritus. Only 16 when he debuted in the Cuban National Series, he was originally nothing more than a pinch-hitter. It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself, though.

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Now, the Blue Jays are hoping he can do the same thing up north. After an expedited path to the majors, Gurriel Jr. is poised to be a versatile part of a Toronto lineup that will feature a slew of young hitters in the coming years.

“I think everyone in the organization hoped [he would come up] sometime this year. When they signed him, everyone really liked him,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s a guy, who in the long run, could probably play anywhere on the field. Right now, he’s just been short and second. But he can hit. When you can hit, we find places for you.”

The future is bright, both for Toronto and Gurriel Jr. For now, however, he’s just soaking his journey in.

He’s come a long way.

“I don’t think anybody’s thinking about this or ready for this, but it’s a dream that any ballplayer, when you’re young, has,” Gurriel Jr. said, thinking back to his childhood in Cuba. “This is just a dream come true for me.”