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Oakland A’s prospect watch: It’s time for Ramon Laureano to get a look in MLB

The outfielder is on absolute fire in Triple-A.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have one of the best offenses in MLB, ranking fifth in wRC+ and eighth in runs-per-game even before dropping another eight-spot against Toronto on Wednesday. They have eight different players with wRC+ marks of 110 or more, which is almost an entire lineup’s worth of plus hitters. And yet, there’s still a prospect making enough noise in Triple-A to be worth talking about.

The A’s picked up outfielder Ramon Laureano in a quiet minor league trade last winter. He was coming off a down year and getting squeezed out of the Astros’ stacked 40-man roster, and Oakland picked him up for a low-level pitching prospect. The hope was that he would rediscover his success from 2016 (163 wRC+ in A+/AA) and prove his 2017 slump was a mirage (87 wRC+ in AA), and that potential along with his highly touted work ethic earned him a spot in the middle of our Community Prospect List.

His age-24 season got off to a tough start when he was hit by a pitch in spring training, breaking his pinky finger (possibly intentionally, thanks to the petulant Giants). He returned to action in late May and spent some time finding his groove, but he absolutely exploded in the month of July (129 PAs):

Laureano, July: .373/.450/.673, 188 wRC+, 8 HR, 10.1% BB, 27.1% Ks, 6 SB

Granted, there’s some BABIP noise in there (.478) and a fairly high strikeout rate, but there’s also a ton of power, a strong walk rate, and a bunch of steals without getting caught. Even with a normal BABIP his average would still be good. If you were looking for signs of a breakout, then this is it.

That brings us to the next logical question: Is it time for Laureano to get a look in MLB? We may have gotten our answer as I was writing this, as fellow outfielder Dustin Fowler was optioned back to Triple-A after Wednesday’s game and Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle named Laureano as the likely replacement, but let’s continue the conversation anyway. (I’ve been meaning to write this article since last weekend but was distracted by the trade deadline. Whoops!)

Oakland’s outfield currently consists of Stephen Piscotty in right, Mark Canha in center, and Nick Martini in left. Fowler is out for now, and Chad Pinder is on the short-term DL. Even with the team’s overall success at the plate, there was a clear opportunity to upgrade over the slumping Fowler, though in my opinion not enough of a need to spend resources on a trade — especially when there’s a prospect destroying Triple-A who is already on the 40-man roster.

And what about the details? Laureano bats right-handed, amid a team that’s already heavy on righties. But so what? Even with the platoon disadvantage, the whole group still hits better against right-handed pitchers than lefties, both in terms of raw numbers and league rank. And defense? The book on Laureano is that he can hang anywhere but is best suited on the corners, but it’s not like Fowler was dominating up the middle himself so that tradeoff wouldn’t make the fielding meaningfully worse. Canha, Laureano, and Martini can get CF sorted out between them, not amazingly but completely adequately.

This conversation would have been more interesting a day or two ago before this afternoon’s Fowler demotion, but instead this can act as a preview of what to look forward to. Laureano is on absolute fire, he fits onto the current squad as a potential upgrade, he’s already on the 40-man, and the guy in front of him on the depth chart just got sent down. It’s time to give Laureano a look in MLB.

Rest of lineup

There’s not much left to see in Nashville right now. Franklin Barreto is up in Oakland again, and so are Martini and J.B. Wendelken. Fowler was only just sent back down, and Bobby Wahl was traded. A few notables:

  • One name back in the fold is B.J. Boyd, who returned from the DL on July 14. He’s gone 12-for-52 (71 wRC+) in 15 games since rejoining the lineup.
  • In even better news, Sheldon Neuse is showing signs of life at the plate. Over his last 19 games, he’s batting .356 with a 137 wRC+ and a current 15-game hitting streak. There’s a major BABIP alert (.472), and only four of his 22 hits went for extra-bases, but the thing catching my eye is the 23.2% strikeout rate (he stood at 37.2% through July 12). A reduction in his Ks is the one thing I’ve most been looking for from him, and for the first time this year he’s finally beginning to show it.
  • Also hot lately is Jorge Mateo, who has BABIP’d his way to a 163 wRC+ over his last 10 games. That includes four triples, raising his PCL-leading total to 13 on the year. He’s still got a wretched K/BB ratio, but at least he’s producing for now.

Full season stats:

Boyd, OF: .264/.317/.344, 74 wRC+, 2 HR, 6.4% BB, 17.1% Ks
Neuse, 3B: .253/.304/.345, 69 wRC+, 4 HR, 7.2% BB, 34.5% Ks
Mateo, SS: .236/.285/.367, 66 wRC+, 3 HR, 6.0% BB, 27.9% Ks

It was a tough first half for Neuse and Mateo, and their season stats probably won’t fully recover this summer no matter what they do, but hopefully they’re finally turning a corner with their recent hot streaks.

Also: We’ll talk more about this soon in the next Midland update, but top pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo is expected to make his next start for Nashville, reports John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle and the other insiders.

MLB depth

There are a few relevant non-prospects staying warm in Triple-A. Quick rundown:

  • Daniel Mengden has made five starts since returning from his foot injury. The first two were rehab warm-ups, and then he tossed two straight seven-inning gems (total: 14 ip, 3 ER, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR). Unfortunately he got blown up on Monday, failing to make it out of the 1st inning after retiring just two of eight batters against the best offense in the PCL, but on the bright side the quick hook was purely because of pitch count and not any injury (via broadcaster Jeff Hem).
  • Chris Bassitt is also holding his own in Nashville. He’s made three starts since returning from his last stint in Oakland, one quality and two decent. Total: 19 ip, 16 Ks, 5 BB, 2 HR, 8 ER (3.79 ERA).
  • Since being DFA’d and returning to Triple-A, Liam Hendriks has thrown 11⅓ ip, with 20 Ks and zero walks or homers out of 47 batters faced, and he still somehow has an unimpressive 4.76 ERA in that span. Sounds about right.
  • Outfielder Boog Powell was officially reinstated from the 60-day DL on Wednesday and optioned back to Triple-A. He’s been out since early April with a knee injury, but had been on a rehab assignment in Nashville. Meanwhile, Jake Smolinski is on the minor league DL.

On top of all that, reliever Carlos Ramirez was DFA’d on Wednesday (to make room for Boog). We’ll have to wait and see if he goes elsewhere or stays in the organization.

Wednesday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Eric Jokisch vs. Fresno
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Norge Ruiz vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Evan Manarino vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Jared Poche’ vs. Kane County
Low-A Vermont: LIVE, Brady Feigl vs. Connecticut

Laureano and Boog are both in the lineup for Nashville.

Link to box scores