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Blue Jays promoting infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Double-A

Another highly-touted Blue Jays prospect is on the move.

This week the club promoted Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, their farm team in the Double-A Eastern League. Gurriel Jr. is scheduled to suit up for New Hampshire on Thursday, says Jays player development director Gil Kim.

Gurriel, the youngest son of a prominent Cuban baseball family, signed a long-term deal with Toronto in November, but early season injuries have limited him to 18 games so far. Now healthy, he heads to New Hampshire after batting .197 with one home run and one double in 69 plate appearances at Dunedin.

But Kim says those numbers belie the quality of Gurriel’s recent at-bats, and that Gurriel’s age (23) and extensive experience in Cuba equip him to jump to Double-A.

“He’s getting more comfy at the plate,” Kim said. “Being with the Cuban national team, he’s faced a lot of good pitching in his career.”

The move is the latest in a series involving highly-rated prospects at lower levels of the Jays’ minor league system. Last Thursday the club promoted power hitting infielders Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero from Lansing of the Low-A Midwest League to Dunedin. The departure of Gurriel, who had been playing shortstop, creates room in Dunedin for Bichette, a shortstop who led the Midwest League in batting (.384), OPS (1.071) and total bases (177). Bichette went 0-for-4 with a walk in his Dunedin debut.

Like Bichette and Guerrero, both sons of major league all-stars, Gurriel brought a healthy pedigree with him when he joined the Jays. His father, Lourdes Sr., batted .323 over 20 years in Cuba’s National Series, and older brother Yulieski, currently with the Houston Astros, is widely seen as the finest Cuban player of the modern era.

Last November, the Jays signed Lourdes Jr. to a seven-year contract worth $ 22 million, eclipsing the four-year, $ 10-million deal the Jays signed with Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarría in 2010.

But unlike Bichette and Guerrero, Gurriel Jr. has had a slow start to his North American pro career.

After Gurriel hit a double in his Florida State League opener April 19, injuries kept him out of Dunedin’s lineup for two full months. He struggled upon returning but found his rhythm this week, collecting four hits in his final 13 at-bats in Dunedin.

The Jays see his recent success as an extension of the potential he showed in Cuba, where he joined the National Series in 2010 at age 16. Over six seasons in Cuba, Gurriel logged 1,098 plate appearances, hitting .271 with 27 home runs and 161 RBI.

In 2015-16, Gurriel hit .344 with 10 home runs and had a .967 OPS over 59 games. Those numbers reflected both his growth as a player and a decline in the league’s overall quality. That season 39 players hit .315 or better, and older brother Yulieski batted .500.

While Gurriel has played shortstop and second base this season, Kim says the club hasn’t yet settled on a long-term defensive position for him but is encouraged by his commitment to improving.

Gurriel committed seven errors in a three-game stretch following his return from injury in June. Kim says Gurriel responded by showing up at Dunedin’s home field six hours before the next game, lugging a bucket of balls out to shortstop and practising his cross-field throws.

“He’s taking extreme ownership of his career instead of dwelling on his mistakes,” Kim said. “He’s athletic. He’s fluid in his actions and he works his tail off.”