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What should we expect from Ramon Laureano in 2019?

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The electric center fielder has high upside, but opposing pitchers are sure to adjust.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Among the many surprising performances from last season’s playoff team, the most exciting may have been that of Ramon Laureano. Prior to the season, Laureano wasn’t on most A’s fans radar after a mediocre 2017 minor league campaign. His tools were obvious and Laureano had a great season from the start, eventually breaking in with the big league club and holding down the center field role through the playoff push.

Last season’s showing did come in a small sample of course, and how exactly Laureano plays in 2019 isn’t totally clear. What should we expect from him next season?

The tools

There’s no question that Laureano has the tools to be a star like he was last season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. This section of the article was really just an excuse to link that clip.

Laureano’s stats and projections

In 2018, Laureano put up 2.1 fWAR in just 48 games. Extended over the course of a season, that’s a 5-6 win player should he perform at the same rate. A big if, of course, but a great example of just how good Laureano was last season.

As you might expect, STEAMER forecasts Laureano to regress some in 2019. The projection system currently has Laureano pegged as a 2.5 fWAR player in 122 games.

Strikeouts and BABIP

Part of the question surrounding Laureano is his contact rate. In the bigs in 2019, Laureano struck out in 28.4% of his at bats, a number that would rank 8th highest in baseball among qualified players. Strikeouts are not a dealbreaker for success, especially in 2019. Dinger king Khris Davis struck out just a touch less than Laureano as one of the game’s premier power hitters.

Laureano certainly has impressive power but it’s unclear if it’ll be enough to overcome a high strikeout rate. He succeeded in 2018 thanks in part to a BABIP of .388, a number that would have been the highest in baseball by a fair margin. Unlike the strikeout rate, the high BABIP isn’t likely to repeat, hence the importance of bringing that K rate down.

While Laureano’s BABIP is bound to decrease some, it’s still likely to stay high. With his speed and batted ball profile, Steamer projects a .316 BABIP next season which would make him a decent but not stellar offensive player in a premium defensive position. In 2018, his xBABIP was .364 and while he was lucky, he wasn’t a fluke.

Splits

Laureano was a better hitter last year against righties than he was in against lefties. It’s extremely rare for a player to have reverse splits and Laureano’s aren’t likely to persist. In the minors he had fairly standard splits both before and after he really emerged as a true prospect.

He’s got a long way to fall from his 131 wRC+ against RHP to still be a very good player. If he’s capable of putting up a league average line against righties while maintaining a strong presence against lefties, he’s a solidly above average 4ish WAR player. Where things get questionable is if his stats crater against righties. With a walk rate of just 5.7% against righties (compared to 16.7% against lefties), there’s reason to think his numbers may shift significantly.

Ultimately, Laureano has to hold his own offensively against righties in order to maximize his value. If his bat remains strong enough to keep him a full time player, his glove is good enough to make him a valuable asset. It’s not a high bar to clear, particularly for someone as talented as Laureano, but it’s vital he clears it.

Final thoughts

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a delightful piece on Laureano late in the season and summed it up perfectly.

Forever and always, when evaluating a player so new to the majors, you should make yourself be patient. There are adjustments, and then adjustments to adjustments, and Laureano still has plenty he’ll have to prove. But as the A’s prepared for a playoff stretch run, they settled on Laureano as their option in center. He and the team haven’t looked back, and Laureano seems to possess a great number of skills. I can’t say for certain whether Laureano will be outstanding in the long run. I do know that he’s exciting right now.

The A’s are no longer a hapless team and Ramon Laureano is no longer a lightly intriguing prospect. Opponents will adjust and adjust and so will Laureano as he enters his first full time season.

Poll

What do you expect from Ramon Laureano in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    He picks up right where he left off in 2018 on his way to an All Star season
    (232 votes)
  • 51%
    Some dropoff with the bat while remaining an above average player
    (493 votes)
  • 22%
    An average overall player propped up by excellent defense
    (216 votes)
  • 2%
    A sophomore slump in which Laureano struggles to hold a full time role
    (24 votes)
965 votes total Vote Now