Oakland Athletics: Ramon Laureano beginning to shine as a hitter

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 29: Ramon Laureano #22 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Los Angeles Angels at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 29, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 29: Ramon Laureano #22 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Los Angeles Angels at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 29, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano has always been known for his dazzling glove, but he’s beginning to shine as a hitter as of late.

Ramon Laureano has already begun to earn a reputation as one of the premier defensive outfielders in all of baseball. The Oakland Athletics everyday center fielder has struck fear into the minds of baserunners who think twice before testing his powerful arm.

And those who dare try him have often found themselves the victim of yet another outfield assist to add to his growing collection of six on the year. This combined with his top-end speed has allowed him to become a virtual highlight reel out there in center.

But perhaps most encouraging has been his recent emergence at the plate.

Laureano was acquired as a part of a low-budget trade in November of 2017 after the deep Houston Astros farm system simply didn’t have room for him. Not too much was expected of the then-23-year-old when the A’s picked him up but he was just two years removed from a breakout 2016 campaign that put his name on the map.

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After tearing it up in Triple-A for the first half of 2018, Laureano was recalled to the major league roster in early August to replace the struggling Dustin Fowler. While expectations weren’t exactly sky-high, Laureano wound up playing a key role down the stretch as the A’s pushed for a playoff spot.

The former 16th-round draft pick would slash .288/.358/.474 over the final 48 games of the season and flash his glove in the outfield. Laureano picked up a whopping nine outfield assists in just 42 starts for an unbelievable rate of one assist per every 4.6 games.

But again, Laureano wasn’t just shining with his defense. Instead, he served as a reliable presence at the top of the lineup and oftentimes was the sparkplug for a young A’s team down the stretch.

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Unfortunately, the start of 2019 hasn’t been nearly as kind to Laureano at the plate, however.

The former Astros prospect struggled at the dish in the spring as he saw his strikeout rate skyrocket to an abysmal 35.9%. Despite beginning the season as the team’s lead-off man, Laureano was soon dropped to the bottom of the lineup as he continued to struggle.

Through the months of March and April, Laureano slashed just .234/.291/.355 as his discipline at the plate remained a major issue. His strikeout rate had remained high and sat at a very poor 28.2% — a far cry from the under-25% strikeout rates he routinely posted in the minor leagues.

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However, something has seemingly clicked for Laureano at the plate over the last month or so. Since May 14th, Laureano has seen his average climb from a lowly .222 to a very respectable .260. His on-base percentage has also risen from just .281 to .307 while his OPS is up over .100 points to .730.

Laureano has cut back on strikeouts while still hitting for more power than earlier in the season. He has six home runs since the start of May including a towering grand slam — the first of his career — hit Wednesday afternoon to lead the A’s to victory over the Tama Bay Rays.

His hitting has helped him become an all-around player who could soon find his way climbing back up towards the top of the lineup. We know he could field, his arm is one of, if not the best in baseball, and he has plus speed.

But if Laureano can continue to rake at the plate, he could soon develop into one the brightest young players in the MLB.

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There’s still plenty of baseball left and it remains to be seen if Laureano can keep this level of play up for the long haul. But the A’s have certainly seen plenty to indicate that he could be the long-term starter in center field.

Now it’s all about becoming a complete player.