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Ramon Laureano MLB debut features sweet defense, walk-off hit

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The outfielder showed off his wide array of tools on both sides of the ball.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There’s nothing like making a good impression on your first day at a new office. Ramon Laureano made his MLB debut on Friday for the Oakland A’s, and although his performance wasn’t perfect it was unquestionably positive. He showed off his wide array of tools on both sides of the ball, and at the end he played hero with a walk-off hit in the 13th to secure a thrilling 1-0 victory.

Laureano was called up on Friday after a monster July in Triple-A, and he replaced the slumping Dustin Fowler. With a lefty pitcher starting for the Tigers that night, the right-handed batter didn’t have to wait long to see his name in the lineup. He was ninth in the order, playing center field.

The 24-year-old made his presence known on defense right out of the gate. The second batter of the game lined the ball sharply to straightaway center, and Laureano had to race back to make the catch at the wall (pictured above). It’s a play you generally hope your CF will make, but it wasn’t a total gimme and he had to overcome some tough sunlight in his face. He struck again in the 2nd inning, snagging a low, shallow liner with a brief knee-slide. The ball wasted no time finding the new guy multiple times, and he responded admirably. Defensive range: Check

Unfortunately the day didn’t start so well at the plate for the rookie. He went down quietly in his first four plate appearances, including two groundouts and two strikeouts, and he chased outside on a lot of offspeed and breaking stuff. On the bright side, in his first at-bat he nearly beat out a routine grounder to oddly lackadaisical shortstop Jose Iglesias, and it was immediately clear that his 60-grade speed is no joke. Speed: Check

The next highlight comes with an asterisk, since Laureano put out a fire he’d created himself. With two outs in the top of the 13th, Iglesias hit a popup into shallow center. Jed Lowrie drifted out for it, and Laureano jogged in as if to let the infielder take it. Both players deferred at the last moment, and the ball dropped harmlessly for a hit. Fortunately, Iglesias was once again oddly lackadaisical and he only got himself to first base on the play, but the fact is that Laureano should have taken charge and called off his teammate on what should have been a catchable ball. Chalk it up to first-day jitters.

But then, in a Cespedian twist, he totally redeemed himself with his arm. A few pitches later Iglesias attempted to steal second base, and Jonathan Lucroy’s throw sailed far to the right of the bag and clear into center field. Iglesias got up and broke for third, but Laureano had alertly been backing up the play and he came up firing. Despite his momentum taking him in somewhat the wrong direction, he delivered a 92 mph laser directly into Matt Chapman’s waiting glove just in time to nab the runner. His arm got a 60-grade entering the season, and he backed it up by leading the Pacific Coast League with 13 outfield assists despite missing the first 42 games. Now we’ve seen it in action and it’s as good as advertised. Cannon arm: Check

In the end, though, it was Laureano’s last play that will go down as the most memorable. The A’s got two runners on base in the bottom of the 13th, and with two outs he got his chance to shine. He took Strike 1, and then flailed wildly at a slider way off the plate for Strike 2. He took the next pitch for Ball 1, but then reliever Buck Farmer left a slider over the outer edge of the plate and Laureano didn’t miss this time. He lined it the other way into the right-center gap, and the Tigers outfielders watched helplessly as it bounced to the wall to easily knock in the winning run. 2018 A’s clutchiness: Check

Since the RBI became a stat in 1920, this was the first time an A’s player had a walk-off RBI hit as the first hit of his big league career. They even brought back the walk-off pie for the special occasion!

This was the A’s fourth big league debut of the season, after top relief prospect Lou Trivino, late-blooming outfielder Nick Martini, and journeyman veteran reliever Jeremy Bleich. Only Trivino and Laureano were serious prospects, though, and Laureano ranked several spots higher on our preseason Community Prospect List (No. 17). In a neat coincidence, it was fellow rookie Martini who walked to lead off the 13th inning and then scored on Laureano’s hit. I remain happy that the A’s didn’t trade for a new outfielder at the deadline.

Laureano finished 2017 as a Double-A player with disappointing stats. He began 2018 on the disabled list, for nearly two months. And yet here he is on Aug. 3, winning an MLB game in dramatic fashion. He notched his first outfield assist, his first hit, and his first Gatorade shower, all while showing off the dynamic athleticism, speed, and arm that we’d been told to expect.

I can’t wait to see what he does in his second day on the job.