The legend of Laureano's laser: How the A's outfielder went viral

ByEddie Matz ESPN logo
Friday, May 24, 2019

Last summer, just eight days into his big league career, Ramon Laureano went viral.

His spectacular outfield assist -- the one in which he caught a Justin Upton drive on the run at the warning track in left-center, then turned and fired a strike to first base to double up Eric Young -- was the kind of play legends are made of. And the kind of videothat ends up everywhere.

On April 22, the Oakland Athletics center fielder one-upped himself by robbing Teoscar Hernandez of a homer, then unleashing a missile to first base that resulted in a double play. The throw, which traveled nearly 400 feet, according to some estimates, actually sailed past first and into foul territory, but that doesn't matter. What matters is Laureano has made a habit of doing physics-defying things with his right arm.

In his very first MLB game last summer, he stopped the Detroit Tigers' Jose Iglesias, who was trying to stretch a double into a triple. The very next day, he got Mike Gerber. Earlier this season, he recorded an outfield assist in all three games of a series against the Boston Red Sox (Xander Bogaerts was a victim twice).

Since making his debut on Aug. 3, 2018, Laureano's 14 assists are more than any outfielder in the majors and almost twice as many as the next-closest guy. It's no fluke, either -- in 380 minor league games, he tallied a jaw-dropping 50 assists.

"I've been doing that since high school and Little League," says Laureano, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to upstate New York as a teenager. Recruited as a pitcher/outfielder, he landed at Northeast Oklahoma A&M, where he played one year before the Houston Astros selected him in the 16th round of the 2014 draft. Five years later, he's patrolling center field in Oakland and challenging Draymond Green for the Bay Area's biggest assist monger.

So just how lethal is Laureano's laser? To find out, we spoke with those who've seen it in person.

Upper Room Christian School head coach Tony Passalacqua:His arm was just ridiculous. He would hit 94 on the radar gun off the mound, but he would always say, "Coach, I don't like to pitch." Nobody could really run on him at the high school level. There were many times when he'd throw someone out, and you'd sit there and say, "That's just not right for a high school player to do that."

Northeast Oklahoma A&M head coach Roger Ward:The arm strength was a no-doubter, but he didn't pitch because we were worried about how many people he would hurt. It was 93, but it was everywhere, and he had a hard time throwing strikes. It ran arm-side on him, hard. If it ran 2 or 3 feet at the plate, it would run 10 feet from the outfield. He definitely corrected that issue and has gotten incredibly accurate with it.

Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias, formerly Astros scouting director:In scouting, we use a 20-to-80 scale, where 80 is as good an arm as you can have. I probably would have called it a 60 or 65. We didn't say, "Oh, my gosh, this is the best arm on the planet." But it was obvious he had a plus arm.

Philadelphia Phillies farm director Josh Bonifay, formerly Greenville Astros (rookie ball) manager:It was our opening minicamp for the Greenville Astros. It's in June, right after the draft. We're taking outfield and infield, and the first time I hit him a ground ball, he throws it to second base, and I'm like, "Oof, that's a hose." So then he throws it to third, and it was nowhere near the third baseman. I think it ended up more in the dugout than anything. And then you hit him to home, and he throws it halfway up the screen. We knew then he had an absolute bazooka. We just had to harness it.

Red Sox coach Ramon Vasquez, formerly Lancaster JetHawks (Class-A) manager:They didn't really run much on him because the whole league kind of knew from the beginning of the season. I actually had a little bit of an argument with him during that season about keeping the ball low. His throws were in line most of the time, but as strong as his arm was, he overshot the cutoff man, and bases. The accuracy was going to come.

Tampa Bay Rays third-base coach Rodney Linares, formerly Corpus Christi Hooks (Double-A) manager:Nobody ran on him. They learned in the minor leagues. He should have had 25 assists. There were times when it was a solid single to center field, and the guy should have scored but they just stopped. They stopped running on him halfway through the year. His arm is the stuff fairy tales are made of.

Fran Riordan, Las Vegas Aviators (Triple-A) manager:We were playing in Nashville last year. He was playing in right field, and there was nobody out. Deep fly ball into the right-field corner, where the visitors' bullpen is. He goes really deep into the corner and makes an unbelievable catch going full sprint. The runner at first base tagged up, not thinking there was going to be a play. Ramon calmly unleashes a line-drive missile all the way to second base and the runner doesn't even slide, thinking there's going to be no play. He was out by 5 feet.

Vasquez: We talked about him. We know he's a plus arm, a 70 arm. We told our guys. But when you look at those plays, they had to happen. Sometimes you gotta challenge the guy. He actually made three perfect throws. All three plays, if you look at those plays, if that throw would've been a step to the left, a step to the right, maybe a little bit higher, we would have been safe. He executed those perfectly.

Riordan:If you look at what he's done in the big leagues on a very short sample size, and I saw what he did last year in Triple-A, these aren't good throws. These are throws that have to be perfect in order to get the out. He's not just making good throws -- he's making perfect throws from impossible places on the field at all bases. I've been managing in the minors for 20 years. There's a lot of strong arms in professional baseball, and there's a lot of accurate arms in professional baseball. In my opinion, there's no combination of arm strength and accuracy like Ramon's.

Linares: I don't know why people keep running on him. With Ramon, you gotta be careful. [In Tampa Bay] we pride ourselves on being really aggressive, but when we play Oakland, I know when to stop the guys.

Orioles shortstop Richie Martin (thrown out at home by Laureano on April 9):I mean, shoot, he's one of the best outfielders in the league right now. He just made a good play. It was kind of laid up for him, a one-hop ball to throw me out. But I thought with my jump that I got right off the bat -- I knew it was going to be close -- but I thought I was going to beat it. But he had me by like 3 or 4 feet. It was a perfect throw. He's legit.

Orioles OF/1B Trey Mancini (on deck when Martin was thrown out):In our meeting, they'll run through the arms of everyone on their team. So we knew that he had a great arm -- it's no secret. Richie's really fast, but he made a perfect throw and got him with a few steps to spare. Leonys Martin's got a really good arm, but I think Laureano's got the best arm I've ever seen. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that you don't run on him.

Bogaerts (multiple-time Laureano victim):He has a good arm and his accuracy, I remember, I got a double at [Fenway Park]. I thought about stretching it to three again and I rounded second and I stopped because I remembered what he did to me. Once, it's OK. The second time, I risked it again, but then it's like, nah. He has the arm and the accuracy, so I just shut it down. I just don't understand how he throws it good like that. He throws it right there, man. Chapman. Boom. And it's right there.

ESPN's Joon Lee contributed to this story.

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