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Oakland A’s acquire outfield prospect Ramon Laureano from Astros

Laureano was added to the 40-man roster.

Feb 19, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Houston Astros right fielder Ramon Laureano (78) poses during spring training media day at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome, Ramon!
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s announced a minor trade on Monday, acquiring 23-year-old outfield prospect Ramon Laureano from the Astros. In exchange, the A’s sent pitching prospect Brandon Bailey to Houston. To make room for Laureano on the 40-man roster, RHP Bobby Wahl was outrighted to Triple-A.

Laureano enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, posting a 163 wRC+ between High-A and Double-A. That performance earned him some attention last winter, including placement in some Astros Top 10 prospect lists (Pipeline, Sickels, Law) as well as John Sickels’ overall Top 200 list (No. 161). However, he slumped badly in the first half of 2017, and even after a strong finish his numbers were still ugly.

Laureano, 2017: .227/.298/.369, 87 wRC+, 11 HR, 24 SB, 7.8% BB, 21.4% Ks

2nd half (213 PAs): .263/.322/.479, 121 wRC+, 8 HR, 7.3% BB, 19.7% Ks

There’s far more to the 23-year-old Laureano than his hitting stats, though. The right-hander gets his highest marks for his speed and throwing arm — he’s stolen 67 bases over the last two seasons (78% success), and this year he racked up 16 outfield assists (mostly in RF). MLB Pipeline still had him as No. 11 in the Astros system, and that’s from a midseason update that factors in his rough first half of 2017 but not his second-half resurgence (they’ve now slotted him No. 18 in the A’s system). Their scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 60 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

He's a similar athlete to fellow Astros outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, though Laureano is a better pure hitter with less power potential. He has good patience and uses the entire field, though there are some concerns about how much his simple right-handed swing will translate into power against better pitching. If he can cut down his strikeout rate, he could become a high-OBP player with 10-15 homers per year.

Laureano could fit nicely in the leadoff spot because he pairs his on-base skills with plus speed and the know-how to steal bases. He's more of an average defender in center field, better on the corners and capable of playing all three spots with his average arm. Nicknamed "The Machine" for his relentless work ethic, he'll get the most out of his ability.

Elsewhere, last winter Keith Law referred to him as “at least an everyday guy, a 50 trending towards a 55 (above-average) regular.” Sickels praised his strike zone judgment, speed, gap power, and defense. (See links above for full reports.)

Put it all together and you’ve got an under-the-radar prospect (16th-round pick) whose resume includes a huge breakout but also a more recent dud. Will he bounce back in 2018? And, more urgently, would someone have gambled on him in the Rule 5 draft? The Astros didn’t have room to protect him on their roster, and instead chose to trade him while they had the chance. (The A’s protected him before Monday’s deadline, by adding him to their roster.)

Meanwhile, Brandon Bailey was Oakland’s 6th-round pick in 2016. The right-hander struck out 120 batters in 91 innings this year between Single-A and High-A, mostly as a starter. I had Bailey as the A’s No. 24 prospect before the trade, so he’s not just a nominal throw-in. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs offers a comp to Brad Peacock (“very Peacockish”), and Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse is surprised to see him go.

As for Bobby Wahl, the reliever made his MLB debut in 2017 but only pitched in seven games before going on the disabled list. The right-hander can hit the high-90s with his fastball but also struggles to find the plate, and more importantly he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his pro career. The 25-year-old is off the roster for now as he recovers from thoracic outlet surgery.

Hot takes: This isn’t what I expected, which makes it exactly what we should expect. Perhaps this isn’t the right-handed outfield bat the A’s claim to be looking for, but it’s a buy-low move for an interesting depth piece.

I’m bummed to lose Bailey, but it wasn’t for nothing. Laureano is at least as good as a couple other fringe guys I liked (Jaycob Brugman, B.J. Boyd), and as a righty he has something to differentiate him from the rest of the crowd (like Dustin Fowler, Boog Powell, and even incumbent RF Matt Joyce). On the downside, the A’s later DFA’d my beloved Bruggy to make room for other Rule 5 prospects, which makes strategic sense based on the previous sentence but makes me sad because I heart Bruggy. In an indirect sense, Laureano took Brugman’s spot on the 40-man.

The A’s traded a prospect I liked for another prospect I can get behind, one who is closer to MLB and helps in an area of immediate need. This is fine.