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Ramon Laureano is off to historic start to MLB career

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It took the A’s rookie only one month to earn the everyday leadoff and CF jobs.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s have enjoyed a magical 2018 season full of surprising successes and unlikely heroes, but perhaps the best development yet has been Ramon Laureano. The rookie debuted in August and has already seized both the leadoff spot in the lineup and the everyday job in center field, all while breaking multiple team records along the way.

Laureano has now played 29 games in his MLB career through Friday night, and he’s already achieved the following:

  • 2 multi-homer games
  • 5 outfield assists
  • 4 stolen bases without being caught
  • A .387 OBP backed up by a 9.7% walk rate
  • Team-leading 161 wRC+

That first bullet point is an all-time A’s record. Laureano notched his second career multi-homer game faster than any A’s player in history. The next closest are Jose Canseco (42 games) and Mark McGwire (43 games). Overall, Laureano has five dingers in 93 plate appearances, giving him a gaudy .259 isolated slugging percentage.

The next bullet point also involves a team record. He collected two of those assists in his first two MLB games, making him the first A’s player to do so in over a century of franchise history. A week later he made one of the best throws that you’ll ever see in baseball.

That’s not all, though. In his debut on Aug. 3, Laureano’s first MLB hit happened to knock in the walk-off run to win the game. It was the first time an A’s player had ever walked off on his first career hit, dating back to 1920 when RBI became a stat. He’s now set three A’s franchise records in just one month of play.

The fact that Laureano is showing power at the plate is just icing on the cake. He’d already displayed blazing speed, a laser arm, dynamic defense, and all-out hustle and intensity, and so far he’s hitting .309 with legitimate on-base skills.

“He has all the tools,” said manager Bob Melvin after Friday’s game. “I think we probably need to wait a little while before we classify him as a five-tool player, but the physical presence, and he’s able to throw, he’s got some power obviously, he runs really well. Yeah, maybe on his way to calling him one of those guys.”

If there’s one flaw in Laureano’s game so far it’s a high strikeout rate, but even that has already seen steady improvement.

“You watch the approach in certain at-bats, that he makes adjustments,” Melvin said last weekend, after the rookie knocked in the eventual winning run with a simple, situationally clutch sac fly against the Mariners. “[The sac fly] was all we needed out of him today; he didn’t try to do too much. He’s starting to lay off some of those balls away that he was swinging at earlier.”

What makes Laureano’s breakout even sweeter is that he was only a middling prospect in the minors. He had some strong tools but wasn’t a top name, and the A’s acquired him in an under-the-radar move last winter rather than a major blockbuster. On top of all that, he missed the first couple months of the season due to a spring training injury and didn’t see his first action in Triple-A until late May. Now we’re talking about him as a potential five-tool player.

Sometimes teams are cautious with small samples and the A’s are no exception, but Melvin has seen enough to get excited about this 24-year-old.

“We’ve gotten decent contributions (from the leadoff spot),” said Melvin on Friday, referencing Nick Martini and Marcus Semien as other solid options. “But for the couple games that we’ve put (Laureano) in there, he’s taken it to another level. He’s swinging the bat really well. He hits one out to left, hits one out to right. He’s on a roll right now. When guys are swinging well, we try to get them up there (in the lineup) as far as we can.”

When asked the best place for Laureano in the order: “The No. 1 spot right now,” said Melvin. “Every day we try to configure the best lineup we think that is for the day. Now at some point in time Nick Martini is gonna be back here too and we really like him against tough right-handers too, but for the time being it’s pretty easy to put (Laureano) there.” He’s leading off on Saturday for the third straight game.

As for defense, Laureano wasted no time taking charge of CF. There were questions about his ability to handle the position in the minors, but he’s looked great both in terms of physical ability and also fundamentals. Oakland had been getting creative up the middle this year, even converting 1B/LF Mark Canha into a serviceable center fielder, and fellow prospect Dustin Fowler was shaky in his first trial there. Now they’ve got a true plus performer at a position that’s been in flux since Coco Crisp hurt his neck in 2014.

“He’s our center fielder at this point,” said Melvin last weekend. “Righty, lefty, that’s the way he plays. He brings a different dynamic certainly speed-wise for us, he covers a ton of ground.”

Teammate and defensive wizard Matt Chapman was even more effusive in his praise.

“That guy is crazy, but I love the way he plays center field. He goes out and gets it, and he plays hard, and he’s one of those guys that energizes us. He’s maybe the best center fielder I’ve ever seen.”

Laureano entered the season at No. 17 on our Community Prospect List and hadn’t yet played above Double-A. Now, in September, we’re talking about him as a five-tool threat serving as the A’s everyday leadoff man and center fielder. Crazy, just plain crazy.