Laureano laser-focused on rebound season

February 18th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- flourished during his first full season in 2019 by performing like a five-tool player on the brink of stardom for the A’s. Since then, his attempts to recapture that stellar form have been to little avail.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Laureano played in 54 of 60 games, but he finished with a career-low .366 slugging percentage. A bounceback looked to be in store for '21 as he built up an .870 OPS through his first 43 games and stood among league leaders with 11 home runs at the time, but a right hip injury and an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance ended his season on a downward spiral.

Laureano’s sinking trajectory hit a low point in 2022. After serving the final 27 games of the suspension, he returned in May and turned in a career-worst batting average (.211), on-base percentage (.287) and OPS (.663) over 94 games. Not only was his season injury-riddled, including right hand and left oblique issues before a PRP injection in his right hip on Sept. 25 ended his campaign early, but it was also one in which Laureano never found a rhythm at the plate when he was healthy enough to play.

"I didn’t really have a plan,” Laureano said of his struggles on offense last season. “I was staying in the emotions instead of common sense. Before that, I had like 11 homers by May of 2021. I was like second [in the American League] in homers, and then I got hurt and things started declining.”

Frustrated over having to watch the final two weeks of another disappointing campaign from the bench, Laureano wasted no time preparing for 2023. After the A's season ended on Oct. 5, Laureano took five days off before heading to Oakland’s Spring Training complex in Mesa to begin his offseason workouts. By mid-December, he resumed hitting and throwing activities.

Embedded in the Arizona desert for the past four months, Laureano’s early arrival to Spring Training signals the laser focus he brings to camp. On the health side, he’s worked extensively with A’s strength and conditioning coach Josh Cuffe on a program consisting of explosive, short-burst exercises that Laureano believes will improve durability to help his body hold up and chase his goal of appearing in all 162 games.

Hitting-wise, Laureano has worked on ditching the bad habits at the plate he said he developed as a result of trying to compensate for the hip injury. 

“I wanted to hit and throw as early as I can, just to clean up the whole game and get this moving as quick as possible,” Laureano said. “I’m trying to not move a lot in the box, to put it simple. Just staying in the strike zone. That’s it. My energy to the strike zone. Just hitting lower liners and more energy to the plate.”

Another key to Laureano achieving his turnaround could be participating in a Spring Training that is free of distraction or interruption, something he really hasn’t had in a few years, whether it be due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 or the lockout in '22.

“I was thinking about how I haven’t had a normal spring since 2019,” Laureano said. “Spring is a big thing for me. It really is. The 2021 Spring Training was awesome because we were at the complex and I took like 90 at-bats that offseason. That’s the most I’ve ever taken in a Spring Training, and that’s why I felt so good at the beginning. Now, hopefully, I get a normal Spring Training. That’s what really sets me up for a season. I lean on my preparation more than anything else. I’m super confident about that.”

A’s manager Mark Kotsay knows the talent Laureano possesses, having witnessed it firsthand as a quality-control coach during that breakout 2019 campaign in which Laureano had a career-high .861 OPS with 24 home runs, 13 stolen bases and 67 RBIs. With Laureano coming back from the offseason locked in early, Kotsay believes a return to form is well within reach for the 28-year-old outfielder.

"We’re looking for Ramón to go out and be the player he was in 2019,” Kotsay said. “Utilizing the whole field, cutting down his strikeouts, putting the ball in play -- the ability to run and be productive in that manner. I think he’s identified what he needs to do to be successful.”