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Ramon Laureano - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

A source of consistent consternation for anyone who runs a fantasy baseball league is the exodus of cellar-dwelling owners in the dog days of summer. No matter what structures or incentives are put in place, at least a couple of owners whose championship dreams have been dashed are typically lured away by the siren songs of barbecues, vacation, and fantasy football. It's an occupational hazard, even in industry leagues.

A silver lining of this unfortunate reality is that these owners may have missed players whose success down the stretch makes them potential draft values the following spring. Rigorous draft prep can help alleviate those blind spots, and articles like this one (sorry) may nullify your advantage somewhat. On the other hand, anecdotally, the teams that give up on their season in August tend not to devote as much effort to their preseason research.

Our focus today is on Oakland Athletics' outfielder Ramon Laureano, whose late-season call-up was just long enough to exhaust his rookie eligibility. Can he help your fantasy team in his first full MLB season?

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The Lowdown on Laureano

A 16th-round pick by the Houston Astros back in 2014, Laureano went largely overlooked as a prospect, rarely featuring in lists of notable farmhands. The Astros didn't bother to protect him on the 40-man roster after a disappointing 2017 season in the minors, and he was traded to the Athletics in November of that year. He entered last season with no experience above Double-A and it's doubtful that the vast majority of baseball fans knew anything about him. Just over a year later, he's penciled in as the A's starting center fielder. How did we get here?

Promoted to the major leagues the morning of August 3, Laureano managed only one hit in five trips to the plate in that evening's game, but he made it count: The hit was a walk-off single in the bottom of the 13th inning. Said hit came after Laureano made an excellent defensive play in the top half of the inning, nabbing a runner at third base. It was the first of many outstanding plays in the field for the rookie. A couple of weeks later, he had the first of his two multi-homer games. All told, Laureano hit .288/.358/.474 with five home runs and seven stolen bases in just 176 plate appearances. Combined with his defensive prowess, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference pegged him for 2.1 WAR in less than a third of a season. Not bad for a guy basically nobody had heard of at this time last year.

The usual caveats apply, of course. Laureano still needs to prove he can sustain that pace, or anything close to it, over a full season. There are also some potential red flags here. He hits the ball hard and runs well, which has helped him run high BABIPs regularly throughout his time as a professional. That said, you can't count on a repeat of last season's .388 mark in that category. Combined with a propensity for whiffs (11.6% swinging strike rate, 28.4 K% in MLB last year), it's unlikely that Laureano will be an asset to your team's batting average.

A number of factors work in Laureano's favor. Throughout his minor-league career, he demonstrated the ability to draw walks. Along with above-average power, that helps to mitigate the strikeouts and could lead to consistent at-bats at the top of the lineup in 2019. He averaged 36 steals per 600 plate appearances in the minors and went 18-for-21 in SB attempts between Triple-A and the majors last season. Given the scarcity of speed in the current environment, that alone is enough to put him on your radar late in drafts. Finally, his abilities in the field can only help him to remain in the lineup on an everyday basis. It doesn't hurt that his only real competition is Dustin Fowler, who can't stay healthy and might not actually be all that good anyway.

Steamer projects Laureano for 14 HR and 14 SB in 491 plate appearances, albeit with a .252 batting average and unremarkable run production. Give him a full season's worth of plate appearances, and a 20/20 season could well be in the cards. At his current price (195 ADP, 0F50), that kind of plausible upside is a bargain.

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