Ramon Laureano is a marvel. He has played less than half a season of baseball at the major league level. He is also nearly one-tenth of the way toward Jeff Francoeur‘s career assist total. That is significant because Francoeur’s 135 career outfield assists are the most in Major League Baseball since the turn of the century. This is a history of the legend of Ramon Laureano.
The Legend of Ramon Laureano
This is not an article about the strongest arms in baseball. Yasiel Puig has a cannon, as did Ichiro. Lots of outfielders have outstanding arms. What sets Laureano apart is not velocity, but rather his uncanny accuracy.
Basketball has Steph Curry. Certainly, it has had outstanding three-point shooters before. What has always set Curry apart is that he does not just shoot threes, he shoots deep threes and makes them. Laureano is essentially an outfield version of Curry. Laureano throws from wherever he fields the ball and puts it on the base. He is not being reckless, constantly overthrowing the cutoff man and trying for the spectacular. Laureano is simply that accurate.
Laureano made his MLB debut on August 3, 2018. The game went 13 innings. In the top of the 13th, Jose Iglesias attempted to steal second base and the throw went into center field. As Iglesias jumped up to run to third, Laureano charged the ball and came up firing. Laureano’s throw was on the money and Iglesias’s foot popped off the bag.
One game, one spectacular assist. Laureano would also walk the Oakland A’s off in the bottom of the inning. As MLB debuts go, it was improbable and fantastic.
It took Laureano an entire 24 hours before he got to show off his arm again. Detroit Tigers outfielder Mike Gerber hit a ball to medium-deep center field that fell in for a hit. Gerber then proved he had slept through the top of the 13th the night before and tried to stretch it into a double. It did not go well for him.
Two games and two assists. Laureano’s career was off to an incredibly improbable start.
Laureano must have been bored and decided merely awesome was not enough. He needed to be mesmerizing, and so on August 11, 2018, he was.
With Eric Young Jr. on first base, Justin Upton hit a fly ball to deep left-centerfield. Laureano raced into the gap and made a great running catch near the warning track. Young had correctly assumed the ball would be difficult to catch and had already rounded second base. Laureano’s momentum took him onto the track, where he spun and delivered a 321-foot chest high strike to Mark Canha at first to double up Young.
It was sublime. It was a perfect storm of improbable events, capped with a nearly impossible throw that will live forever in baseball highlights.
Springer is fast. So when he was on first base and Alex Bregman hit a groundball single up the middle, Springer took off hard, looking to go first to third. It was not a bad baseball decision. Springer is fast enough to make that move the vast majority of the time.
However, Springer had not accounted for Laureano. In a near replica of his first assist, Laureano charged the ball and came up throwing, putting the ball on the bag at third base and beating a diving Springer. Laureano was no longer just throwing out runners with bad reads.
Laureano is not perfect. Not every throw is a smart idea. However, as the mantra goes “Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.”
Aaron Hicks of the New York Yankees hit an RBI single up the middle. Much like with Iglesias and Springer, Laureano charged and came up throwing. Unlike the first two, this time Laureano came up throwing for home.
It was the wrong throw. Even worse, it was offline. Enter Matt Olson. Olson came leaping in near the pitcher’s mound, cutting off the throw and catching Andrew McCutchen in no man’s land between second and third.
Some home runs will be wind-aided. Some outfield assists will be accidents. They all count the same.
Sometimes, people do not learn from their mistakes. In the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles, Tim Beckham hit an RBI single to centerfield. Laureano, as usual, fielded and fired. The throw was cut off at the pitcher’s mound, and Beckham, who had foolishly rounded first, was out before he was halfway to second.
Breyvic Valera saw that play and thought “Anything Tim can do I can do better”, so when he dumped a ball into right-center, he left the box thinking double. Laureano fielded going to his left, spun and threw to second with the throw beating Valera by 10 feet.
Valera might have gotten closer to second, but he also turned a base hit into an out. It is not difficult to imagine that his manager was less than impressed. But sometimes legends are built on the mistakes of others.
This was perhaps the least improbable of all of Laureano’s assists. Jorge Polanco of the Minnesota Twins hit a bases-clearing double. He, mistakenly, thought he hit a bases-clearing triple. With no play to be made, Laureano simply hit the cutoff man, and after a small rundown, Polanco was out. Sometimes, just doing things right yields unexpected rewards.
Laureano would play 47 games in 2018. He recorded nine assists. That is nearly one every five games, for a pace of roughly 32 assists a season. The American League record for outfield assists is 35, and that number comes from the dead ball era. It was clear Laureano’s arm could be something special.
Games 54, 55, and 57
Maybe the Boston Red Sox had World Series malaise. Maybe they simply missed the scouting report. Whatever the reason, three times in four games they decided to challenge Laureano’s arm. And three times in four games, the Red Sox lost.
The throws were sheer perfection. No cutoff men. No rundowns. Just lasers unleashed with uncanny precision.
In the first game of the series, Xander Bogaerts tried to score from second on a single up the middle. Laureano unleashed a 96-mph missile to the plate. 270 feet, in the air, and on target. Bogaerts slid feet first, the lead leg bounced high, and Laureano was back.
In the second game, Bogaerts missed a home run by a foot. As the ball bounced back onto the grass, Laureano barehanded the ball and threw a one-hop strike to third base to prevent a triple. The legend was growing.
In the fourth game, Mookie Betts, the reigning AL MVP, tried to go first to third on a bloop single. Laureano again fielded and threw off-balance and across his body, but he nailed Betts at third.
It is one thing to have multiple assists against the woebegone Orioles. It is an entirely different thing to do it against the champs and the MVP. It is yet another thing to do it to the reigning champs three times in four games. That is how legends are born.
Against the new-look, much younger Orioles, Laureano unleashed another 96 mph rocket. This time, he caught former Athletics farmhand Richie Martin by surprise as Martin tried to score from second on a hit up the middle. Getting behind the ball, and falling as he threw, Laureano still managed to put it on the plate at 96 and beat Martin by several feet.
A Legend Begins
Laureano threw out nine men in 47 games as a rookie. He has thrown out four in 16 games this season. The ratio improvement will not last. Teams will learn, and indeed, already are learning.
The kind of assists Laureano is becoming famous for demand perfection. Teams will always attempt to take an extra base when perfection is the only way to beat them. The beauty of Laureano is that he does not have to be perfect every time. No one can be.
Laureano has shown a remarkable knack for perfection. He does not have to do it every time, but every time he does, it is something special. And perfection, sublime perfection, is the stuff legends are made of. The legend of Ramon Laureano has begun.
Embed from Getty Images