2019 Player Profile: Ramon Laureano’s Coming Out Party
I’ve spent most of the past few weeks considering young, up-and-coming players as part of my ongoing offseason profile series. I’ll continue that trend today by looking at one of 2018’s quiet breakout rookies. Ramon Laureano flashed an impressive collection of tools in his MLB cameo, and he comes with rare power-speed upside at the back end of drafts. He’s still very much boom-or-bust, but if he hits, Laureano could be an exciting fantasy asset.
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The Ramon Laureano
What most casual fans (and Eric Young, Jr.) know about Ramon Laureano is his arm. It’s elite, and it has been throughout his minor-league career. Fantasy owners, though, have no reason to care about Laureano’s arm, and it’s showing up in his average draft position. Laureano’s currently the 51st outfielder coming off draft boards. Fortunately, he’s much more than a one-tool player.
The most exciting thing about Laureano can actually be seen in that video which went viral. While much of the attention was devoted to Laureano’s throw, flying under the radar was how difficult a catch that was to make in the first place. Laureano’s fast and he knows how to use his speed. Per Statcast, Laureano was a 92nd percentile sprinter in his MLB time, and that’s nothing new. Scouting reports have long lauded him as a plus runner, and he’s stolen 52 bases in 271 career games at Double-A and above. Not only can Laureano run, but he’s also shown he can steal bags against high-level opposing defenses. It’s tough to find stolen bases in 2019, but Ramon Laureano should offer them.
More importantly, Laureano can hit. His .288/.358/.474 MLB line was stellar, but owners are understandably cautious about buying into 176 plate appearances, many of which came against expanded September roster opponents. Still, that type of production from Laureano is nothing new. He raked in the low minors, he hit against advanced pitching in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, and he was tearing up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League early in 2018. He had a down 2017 in Double-A, but that season is the outlier of his pro career thus far. Everywhere else, Laureano’s performed.
Because his MLB experience is still so limited, it’s worth examining where scouts have stood on Laureano over the years. A former 16th-round pick with no publicly-available draft report, it’s obvious Laureano wasn’t well-regarded as an amateur. Yet he didn’t burst onto the MLB scene out of nowhere last year. Casual fans may have overlooked Laureano, but pro scouts took note of his 2016 efforts. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen named Laureano as an honorable mention on his 2017 top 100 prospects list, pegging him as the Astros’ fifth-most promising farmhand. Granted, by 2018, Laureano’s stock had fallen dramatically, and the Astros sent him to Oakland in a minor trade after deciding he wasn’t worth a 40-man roster spot.
Despite the tools and performance, some scouts questioned Laureano’s long-term offensive viability, especially after his 2017 downturn. He doesn’t have huge power or elite bat control, the critique went, so he can’t be counted on to play every day. Maybe that will still be borne out. It’s too early to call Laureano a definitive success. Yet it seems that Laureano’s power was a bit undersold. Pulling from Baseball Savant, Laureano was in the top half of the league in peak and average exit velocity in 2018. Again, it’s limited big league time, so it comes with caveats, but there’s a chance Laureano’s power plays closer to average than was expected.
The bat control argument seems to hold more weight, but Laureano’s plate discipline might help to offset it. Last year, Laureano had a contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone right around league average. His contact rate on pitches outside the zone was well below-average. This jibes with the reports; Laureano has just enough bat control to handle the pitches he wants to swing at, but not enough to bail himself out if he gets fooled. He’s never going to be an elite contact hitter. Still, Laureano has long had a strong awareness of the strike zone, routinely ranking among the minor-league leaders in on-base percentage. He might not be talented enough to handle every pitch in every location, but he at least seems aware of his limitations. He’s patient enough to know what pitches he cannot hit.
Laureano’s plate discipline profile looks like that of Eugenio Suarez. Like Laureano, Suarez was a solid but unspectacular prospect whose minor-league numbers always outshined scouts’ opinion on his tools. As a big leaguer, Suarez has remained an impressive hitter despite a low out-of-zone contact rate by making a high amount of contact on pitches in the zone and laying off pitches outside of it. Suarez is the extreme outcome for how successful this type of player can become; chances are, Laureano will never have an elite season like the one Cincinnati’s third baseman just put together. Still, even replicating Suarez’s 2017 output would be stellar. That year, Suarez hit .260/.367/.461 with 26 home runs. Something like that might be attainable for Laureano- probably slugging closer to .440 with 20 homers, but in that general vein- and unlike Suarez, Laureano can run.
Ramon Laureano might just be the type of player who takes a while to appreciate. He knows his strike zone, he makes just enough contact with just enough power, and he translates his raw speed into stolen base totals. Grab Laureano in the mid-rounds, and you might look up at the end of the year and see a .265 hitter with 20 homers and 25 steals. Laureano’s more than just an arm.
Are you buying in on Ramon Laureano? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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