The Athletics’ Ramon Laureano plays centerfield with an effort and abandon that jumps out at you. The 27-year-old combines power at the plate and speed on the bases that make him a threat for the 20-20 club every year. And his powerful arm already is responsible for throwing out 25 baserunners in just 291 career games in the outfield through Friday.
When Oakland was in town to face the Yankees last month, Laureano told Newsday that becoming the player he is today was only a hope while growing up in the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t until he got to Long Island that he came to believe.
Baseball fans on Long Island are studious, however they might not realize that beginning in 2009, Laureano spent three seasons playing high school baseball here at tony Upper Room Christian Academy in Dix Hills as an outfielder and pitcher. The Royals didn’t play against Catholic or public schools on Long Island, except for the occasional scrimmage; most of their games were in the city, upstate or at out-of-state tournaments.
"They said the school was hoping to find someone who could pitch and play outfield and I guess I was the chosen one," Laureano said. "My game developed a lot when I was in Long Island and I see today I was lucky to be able to come here."
The Island might be where his ascent began, but he still hasn’t reach an apex.
"You don't find too many guys with as many tools as he has," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He’s a true five-tool player, and I think he will be an All-Star in a short period of time. Ultimately I could see him being a perennial All-Star."
Major League Baseball has an outreach program that promotes interest and participation in underserved communities called RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). His participation in RBI got him noticed in the United States and ultimately led to Upper Room offering him a place as a sophomore. It wasn’t easy to leave home at 15 or live with seven different families — in Huntington, Freeport and Wyandanch — during his three years here. As Laureano said: "There were moments I wanted to go back home, but I am glad I didn’t."
Both then-Upper Room coach Anthony Passalacqua and Lou Maietta, who coached Laureano during summers with the Long Island/Max Bat Titans, described him as having a voracious appetite to keep learning and improving.
The road to a major-league baseball roster is long with many stages of development. Few players might single out one moment when they realized they could make it. Laureano can.
He was a 16-year-old playing with the Titans against the nationally known Bayside Yankees in a Connecticut tournament. On one swing of his wooden bat, Laureano launched a home run that cleared the centerfield fence at the college stadium by more than 30 feet.
"It was the kind of home run that had everyone on our team and everyone on the other team looking at each other like, ‘What the hell just happened?’" Maietta said. "He did it in a wood-bat tournament against a future Division I pitcher. It was one of the longest home runs I’ve seen by a player at that level, and we had and played against a lot of good players."
Said Laureano: "That home run is when I understood something. I was like, ‘Wow, if I keep working I can make it.’"
The progress continued and sped up after that. Passalacqua said that when he next suited up for Upper Room, Laureano was applying the instruction at the plate that he and Maietta had been giving.
"He was naturally developing physically, but his mental approach at the plate was changing," Passalacqua said. "He just wasn't going out there to see it and hit it, trying to guess at pitches. He started putting himself in good hitting [situations], good hitting counts. He started to know what look for and know what to attack."
"He developed great plate discipline and stopped chasing balls out of the zone," Maietta said.
Laureano doesn’t consider himself a late bloomer, but understood the lack of recognition for his play at Upper Room. "I wasn’t the best prospect on Long Island, I wasn’t playing against the best Long Island teams and I wasn’t scouted or recruited the same because of that," he said.
He didn’t get a Division I scholarship offer out of Upper Room and went the junior college route, playing at Northeast Oklahoma A&M College. There he got noticed by Astros scout Jim Stevenson, who was in to see a pair of highly touted pitchers. Houston took Laureano in the 16th round of the 2014 draft. The Astros dealt him to Oakland in a 2017 trade because they weren’t going to be able to protect him in the Rule V draft.
From there it’s been nothing but up. With that effort and abandon he is known for and what Melvin described as a "good baseball mind," Laureano became the starting centerfielder by the end of the 2018 season. A hip injury limited him to 123 games in 2019, but he still hit 24 home runs and batted .288. He might have been on his way to the first of those All-Star games this season before he lost three weeks to a hip injury; he had an .834 OPS with 11 home runs and eight stolen bases through the first 48 games.
"Ramon is in tune with everything," Melvin said. "He understands the analytics. He’s receptive to instruction. He's matured pretty quickly at the big-league level and a lot of it is just because of hard work and his understanding of what he needs to do to get better."
"I know I deserve to be here and I have to keep proving it," Laureano said. "I need to keep working and get the experience to get better."