It’s not quite true to say that Ramón Laureano has been overlooked. One of the first things he did in a big-league uniform was uncork an absolutely bananas throw that went viral among the baseball Twitterverse. You’ve undoubtedly seen this play, so I don’t need to embed a video of it, but I’m going to anyways because goodness, look at that throw.
However, chances are that Laureano fell off your radar after the throw. The A’s had so many players turn in excellent seasons that the rest of his efforts got upstaged. Matt Chapman finished seventh in MVP voting, Khris Davis hit .247 for the fourth year in a row, Blake Treinen was virtually unhittable. Laureano’s 2.1 fWAR in 48 games got lost among myriad stories coming out of Oakland.
Laureano’s professional career began relatively humbly. He was selected in the 16th round of the 2014 draft by the Houston Astros. Laureano hit well through the first few levels of the minors, but he struggled in his first full season at Double-A. His .668 OPS with Corpus Christi was enough for the Astros to make him the odd man out when they need to make room on the 40-man roster. At the end of the 2017 offseason, Houston traded him to Oakland for Brandon Bailey, who currently projects to be a back of the rotation/middle relief arm.
It’s dangerous to blindly appeal to authority, but if you figure that the Astros, a team with a player development system that’s way ahead of the curve, didn’t see Laureano as being worth hanging onto, then he must not have been. The Astros, though, may have gotten hosed.
Laureano is primed to be a mainstay in Oakland’s outfield. As Matt Trueblood pointed out, Laureano’s PECOTA-projected 2.6 WARP is greater than Odubel Herrera, Aaron Hicks, Jackie Bradley Jr., and AJ Pollock. Steamer similarly has him slated for a 2.8 fWAR season. What’s interesting is that DRC+ was less impressed with Laureano’s debut than wRC+. FanGraphs’ metric had Laureano had him at 129, but Baseball Prospectus’s had him at just 93. Regardless, Laureano has a higher projected DRC+ (106) than wRC+ (104).
The concern with Laureano are the strikeouts. At every level of the minors, he struck out around a quarter of the time, and the K’s only figure to increase in majors. What’s encouraging is that Laureano chases less often than league average, and that’s a good thing because his chase-contact was only 42.1 percent. That brings his overall contact rate down, but when he does make contact, he hits the ball hard.
Statcast tracked his hard-hit rate at 41.7 percent and in a small sample, he had an 11 percent barrel rate. Laureano benefited from batted-ball luck in 2018, certainly. With tendency to hit more line drives and ground balls, coupled with his elite speed, he should be running higher than average BABIPs.
Laureano’s game is solid on all sides of the ball. He’s a competent defender with one of the best arms in the game. He has the power to crack 20 dingers while also stealing 20 bases. He could comfortably be a top-ten center fielder as early as this year.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.