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The Houston Astros Ramon Laureano’s breakout 2016

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The Houston Astros have a bevy of young and talented outfielders. Is under-the-radar Ramon Laureano the best of the bunch?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ramon Laureano could do no wrong in 2016. Now as a non-roster invite for the Houston Astros, he has a chance to open some eyes at the big league level.

Laureano is native of the Dominican Republic, but played his college ball at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. He put himself on the draft board with a big final season in JUCO. Laureano earned All-Region honors behind a .439 batting average with 19 doubles and 13 home runs. He displayed his best asset — his 60-grade speed — by scoring 55 runs and snagging 22 stolen bases.

He and his teammate — Jake Jewell, now in the Los Angeles Angels organization — were both drafted in the ensuing 2014 draft. The Astros selected him in the 16th round, signing him to a $25,000 bonus. He’s proving to be quite a bargain.

Laureano didn’t light up the stat sheets in his first season-and-a-half. He proved that his speed could play in professional ball. He had eight triples and was 18-for-21 in stolen bases for Quad Cities in his second season. Last year, he took off and hasn’t stopped.

His 2016 began in the California League. As one could expect, Laureano tapped into his power at the home run-happy level. He drilled 19 doubles and 10 home runs in 80 games, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part. Laureano showed a newfound plate discipline, a patience that suggests he could succeed at any level. He struck out 86 times, but walked 50, posting a Cal League best .426 on base percentage. It earned him a promotion to Corpus Christi.

Once settled in, Laureano kept hitting. And walking. In fact, Laureano topped the minors in on base percentage in 2016, finishing at a .428 mark. His final numbers across two levels were impressive, slashing .319/.428/.528 behind a .955 OPS. He hit 28 doubles, seven triples and 15 home runs while successfully swiping 43 of 57 stolen base attempts.

The Astros sent Laureano to the desert and he continued his hot season. He took home the first Arizona Fall League Player of the Week honors going 8-for-14 with two doubles, two triples, scoring eight runs. Laureano seemingly mastered three different levels of ball in 2016, and showed the same improve plate discipline and contact at every one of them.

(Arizona Fall League action courtesy of FanGraphs. Nice swing!)

Laureano isn’t a big guy, standing at just five-foot-eleven and 185 pounds. To expect anymore of a power surge from the righty may be a bit unfair. He was a bit lucky in 2016, with a BABIP over .400 at both levels during the regular season, but his speed also plays to that number as well. There is no denying his 155 wRC+ in the California League and 184 wRC+ in Double-A. Laureano was simply atop his game in 2016.

His speed plays well in the outfield. Primarily a centerfielder, Laureano has played all three positions well, which may help fast track him to the bigs. The fact that he seems to use the whole field as a hitter, combined with his patience at the plate, suggests he could be a useful hitter at the next level.

Laureano spray chart. MLBFarm.com

Laureano spray chart.

The Astros have a ton of youth in the outfield with names like Kyle Tucker, Preston Tucker, George Springer, Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez and Daz Cameron on the pipeline and big league level. Still, John Sickels was impressed enough by Laureano’s 2016 breakout, that he ranked him higher than some of the aforementioned names:

ASTROS TOP 20TOP 200

Laureano has his work cut out for him. He has to prove 2016 was no fluke with a big year in Triple-A come 2017. Should he continue to hit and walk at the same rates he did last season, an early big league arrival isn’t out of the question.