OAKLAND — Oakland Athletics center fielder Dustin Fowler was demoted to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday, but not because of his performance. It was to get him at-bats.
Fowler was hitting .231 on the season, but in the month of July, he was hitting .176. Having made just one start since July 22, he had just four at-bats in the last 11 days.
Fowler was part of last year’s Sonny Gray trade haul, and manager Bob Melvin said he still expects the 23-year-old to be the organization’s “center fielder of the future,” but amid a tight playoff race, this was not a time for patience with a struggling prospect.
So, Oakland called up outfielder Ramón Laureano, a player the organization feels it stole from the Houston Astros this past offseason. Laureano, 24, was acquired in a low-profile deal involving High-A pitching prospect Brandon Bailey in November of 2017. Laureano struggled last year in the Astros’ system, but he was considered an above-average prospect the season before that.
On Friday against the Detroit Tigers, Laureano will bat ninth and play center field.
“We were excited to get him,” Melvin said. “[Executive VP Billy Beane and general manager David Forst] were talking about how he was basically untouchable the year before with the Astros and a tough guy to get.”
Laureano’s spring training with the A’s was cut short when he broke his finger after being hit by a pitch. The injury kept him out of action until May.
He then became Triple-A Nashville’s most dangerous hitter, delivering 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 64 games. He can play every outfield position and is particularly effective at the plate against left-handed pitchers — an area the A’s could use help with.
“The timing is good to get him here,” Melvin said. “We have four out of the next five games against left-handed starters, and he will get a chance to perform.”
Laureano attributed this year’s resurgence to improved plate discipline. His walk rate has jumped from 7.8 percent to 10.9 percent, and his batting average has gone from .227 to .297.
He said he no longer tries to prove anything in the batter’s box, instead sticking to a basic approach and trusting his talent level.
There might be some nervousness on Friday, when Laureano makes his MLB debut in front of his parents, girlfriend and agent, but while sitting in the A’s dugout three hours before the game, he tried not to imagine what his first-ever at-bat would be like, or how it would feel to trot onto the field. Doing so might allow doubt to creep in.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Laureano said. “I don’t want to think about it too much.”
Houston, of course, has a recent history of giving up on once-touted outfield prospects only to be burned later. Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Martinez was released by the Astros in 2014 before quickly becoming one of the top hitters in baseball and a borderline MVP candidate.
The A’s would be pleased if Laureano merely becomes a solid bat against lefties this year, though the less-realistic Martinez track certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Injured utility man Chad Pinder (elbow laceration) wore a thin white wrap on his left arm and took batting practice Friday. Melvin said Pinder is on course to return to the team ahead of its next series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.