March 14, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Yuli Gurriel has a special guest instructor this week to help him get more familiar with playing first base: newly elected Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell.

''It's an honor to work with him,'' Gurriel said. ''It's a player that I've watched growing up even as a little kid in Cuba.''

A former third baseman, Bagwell himself made the transition across the diamond. He has offered positioning suggestions, footwork tips and recommendations regarding mental approach.

''He's doing well,'' Houston manager A.J. Hinch said of Gurriel. ''He's learning and adapting. We don't talk a lot about defensive timing, but the timing at first base has been a little bit better. He looks a little bit more comfortable.''

So far the tutelage covered defensive play. Gurriel expects to have time to ask questions of Bagwell, who hit .297 with 449 homers 1,529 RBIs during 15 major league seasons, all with Houston.

''We haven't talked hitting yet but I plan on asking a few questions here and there,'' Gurriel said with a smile, speaking through a translator.

The 32-year-old Gurriel signed with Houston last July after he hit .500 (87 for 174) with 15 homers for Industriales in Cuba's Series Nacional in 2015.

Gurriel started at rookie ball, quickly worked his way through Houston's farm system and was promoted to the major leagues on Aug. 21. He hit .262 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 130 at-bats with the Astros.

With budding star Alex Bregman at third base and the designated hitter role likely to be split primarily between Carlos Beltan and Evan Gattis, Houston needed to find a lineup spot for Gurriel.

The logical position was first base.

''It surprised me at first,'' Gurriel said. ''I'd never played there before but really my ultimate goal is to win and to play and be on the field - to contribute. With that, I took it in stride.''

Marwin Gonzalez started 91 games for Houston at first last season, hitting .258 with 10 homers, and he figures to play a utility role. With Bregman on the U.S. team at the World Baseball Classic, Gurriel recently played third for a couple of exhibition games. He was back at first base on Tuesday, going hitless in a 2-1 loss to the New York Mets.

''Yuli's going to start at first base,'' Hinch said. ''He's going to be a guy who can contribute and be an excellent everyday player.''

Houston's infield also includes second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa.

''It's a brand new league for me and I'm still getting used to the league and the pitchers,'' Gurriel said. ''As I adapt and make adjustments I hope that I can start hitting the ball with a little bit more power down the road.''

For now, though, Gurriel's defensive education continues.

''I'm still not 100 percent comfortable over there but we're getting close and I'm going to keep on working to make sure that when that day comes I'm ready to go,'' Gurriel said.

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