A's star prospect 'Lazarito' adjusting to American baseball, culture

A's star prospect 'Lazarito' adjusting to American baseball, culture

MESA, Ariz. — Someday he may be starring in green and gold, his memorable one-word nickname burned into the minds of Bay Area fans.

Right now the days are long for Lazaro Armenteros, and they’re anything but glamorous.

The 17-year-old outfielder from Cuba, known simply as “Lazarito,” wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning to get to the A’s minor league facility. He doesn’t get home until well into the evening, after his English language classes that run Monday through Friday.

Most of Oakland’s minor leaguers have their hands full just trying to make a good impression between the lines. Armenteros, the youngest player in camp, is learning a new country, a new culture, a new language, and a new way of approaching the game.

In his first interview since arriving at spring training, Armenteros said he’s tackling the task with enthusiasm.

“I’m really excited. It’s always been a dream of mine to come to the United States and play,” he said exclusively to CSNCalifornia.com through interpreter Juan Dorado. “Thank God I finally get the opportunity to live out that dream fully here in the States.”

Armenteros was one of the most sought after players during last summer’s international signing period. The A’s landed him with a $3 million bonus, their largest for an international amateur since shelling out a team-record $4.25 million for pitcher Michael Ynoa in 2008.

He’s quite the physical specimen already — 6-foot-1 and a chiseled 200 pounds — with power and speed said to be his best tools. The comparisons have ranged from Yoenis Cespedes to Bo Jackson to Willie Mays.

Ridiculously premature, but you get the point.

Armenteros defected from Cuba in 2015, established residency in Haiti and eventually settled in the Dominican Republic before signing with Oakland.

The A’s signed four other highly regarded international amateurs last July — shortstops Marcos Brito and Yerdel Vargas, outfielder Kevin Richards and third baseman George Bell — who all will arrive in the United States shortly to take part in extended spring training.

Because of the unique, and chaotic, road Armenteros has traveled, the A’s thought it best to get him here early. A group of four coaches form a support team away from the field — Ruben Escalera, Gabriel Ozuna and Gabriel Ortiz are on the coaching staff of the A’s rookie league team. Juan Dilone is the hitting coach for low Single-A Beloit.

“They’re mentors, and they have to discipline too,” said Keith Lieppman, the A’s director of player development. “There’s a whole lot of things going on. You try to communicate. You try to help them understand the importance of being on time, all the things you have to do to be a baseball player.”

Added Armenteros: “It’s given me an opportunity to learn from them, outside the game and inside the game. When they tell me something during the game, I listen and get better because they know what it’s like to be in professional baseball.”

His father started calling him “Lazarito” when he was younger, and it stuck. With help from one of his early representatives, he even acquired trademark rights to a “Lazarito” logo.

Asked how he likes the food in the United States, Armenteros smiled.

“I go to the supermarket and make my own food,” he said. “I like to make some eggs, some rice, and then cook some pork. Or just chicken and rice.

“And spaghetti.”

At the time of Armenteros’ signing, A’s assistant general manager Dan Feinstein — who heads the team’s international scouting — called Armenteros “the most physically imposing young player we’ve seen in a long time,” with great bat speed and raw power. A right-handed hitter and thrower, the A’s project him as a corner outfielder.

In his early impression, Lieppman has been impressed with Armenteros’ hitting approach.

“He’s sort of matched up with our philosophy as far as plate discipline without ever saying anything to him.”

Figure it will be several years before fans can look forward to potentially seeing Armenteros in Oakland. The A’s are in no rush with him. The plan is for the outfielder to stay in Arizona through spring training and extended spring training, and then head back to the Dominican Republic to play in the Dominican Summer League. If he fares well, he would probably return and join the A’s Arizona-based rookie league team.

Not surprisingly, when asked who his favorite major leaguers are to watch, Cespedes — the former Athletic and a fellow Cuban — are among those he mentions.

“He does it all,” Armenteros said.

As for his own skills, the teenager projects confidence and doesn’t hold back in his self-assessment.

“I do think of myself as a five-tool player,” he said. “I think of myself (as having) speed, power, glove, arm … all the tools you would need to succeed in this game.”

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

OAKLAND — The A’s set off for Chicago on Thursday evening to begin their next road trip, and how their dynamic has changed over the course of one week.

They began their most recent homestand by cutting ties with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe to make room for hotshot prospect Matt Chapman. On Thursday, catcher Stephen Vogt suffered the same fate as Plouffe, getting designated for assignment to make room for another young player in Bruce Maxwell.

The calendar may still read June, with more than half of the season remaining, but the A’s are cleaning house, undergoing a reboot and playing the rest of 2017 with an emphasis on what lies ahead.

Five of the nine position players in their starting lineup for Thursday’s 12-9 loss to the Houston Astros are what you would consider “future” guys — center fielder Jaycob Brugman, third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Chad Pinder, Maxwell and right fielder Matt Olson.

They will shuffle around the diamond a bit, and Olson may only stay with the big club until Chapman comes off the disabled list (though Olson’s full-time status in the bigs doesn’t seem far off). Regardless, the plan is crystal clear — the A’s are hitching their wagon to their young core and are prepared to let them develop at the major league level, with whatever successes and failures may come with the growth process.

“We do get excited about giving these guys playing time,” A’s general manager David Forst said before Thursday’s game.

The Astros finished off a four-game sweep of Oakland with their 12-9 victory, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and then holding on after the A’s mounted a late charge. Glance up and down the box score, and those key young players were instrumental in so much that went right for the A’s.

Maxwell went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Olson drove in two runs. Pinder had two hits and an RBI. Brugman chipped in an RBI single and walked twice. That was the silver lining on a day that starting pitcher Jesse Hahn struggled mightily, allowing nine earned runs in just two innings.

“These guys are gonna be important,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The last thing you want to see when you’re down 10-0 is guys just cash it in, and that wasn’t the case. These guys all have something to play for. They’re playing for jobs. And in the future, starting jobs.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, middle infielder Franklin Barreto will join the mix from Triple-A Nashville. For now, an immediate storyline is the health of Chapman, who joined the 10-day disabled list with a case of cellulitis (bacterial infection) in his left knee. The A’s checked him into a hospital Wednesday night to get an intravenous antibiotic, after his condition “plateaued” with oral antibiotics, according to Forst.

He said Chapman is likely to leave the hospital Friday, and the A’s are hopeful the rookie third baseman will be able to return when he’s eligible to come off the D.L. His stint can be backdated to Monday, meaning Chapman is eligible to return next Thursday at Houston.

He’s part of the youth movement that resulted in Vogt getting shown the exit. Maxwell sent Vogt a text message wishing him the best Thursday morning, and Vogt quickly responded, wishing him the best. That meant a lot to Maxwell, who didn’t learn until Thursday morning that his roster spot was coming at Vogt’s expense.

But Maxwell said he’s excited to be surrounded by so many players that he’s advanced through the minors with.

“Once we get everybody acclimated to each other and the game up here,” he said, “I feel like we could potentially set up a turning point for this organization for years to come.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — Under some circumstances, a 4-4 homestand against the Yankees and Astros wouldn’t seem so bad for the A’s.

This wasn’t the way they would have preferred it however.

After sweeping New York in four at the Coliseum, the A’s proceeded to drop four in a row to Houston, including Thursday's 12-9 loss, making this an historic stay at home whether they wanted it that way or not. Only one other time in the past 106 years had the A’s played back-to-back four-game series and swept the first while being swept in the second.

The first time it happened was in September 1977, when they were swept by Texas before taking the broom to Kansas City.

Thursday’s contest got out of hand early, with the Astros jumping out to a 10-0 lead by the second inning before Oakland came roaring back late.

Jesse Hahn (3-5) was out of whack from his first batter and lasted just two innings, getting hammered for a career-high 10 runs (nine earned) and allowing two home runs.

On the same day Oakland designated Stephen Vogt for assignment, another noteworthy former Athletic enjoyed a huge day against his old team as Josh Reddick finished just a single short of the cycle and scored four runs.

But the A’s came alive for a six-run rally in the eighth to close to within 12-9 and make the Astros sweat it.

But Oakland wound up falling a season high-tying 11 games under .500 at 31-42. A six-game road trip is up next to play the White Sox and, once again, the Astros, who ran their winning streak at the Coliseum to 10 and have won 15 of their past 16 against the A’s.

Short day for Hahn: It was clear early that Hahn didn’t have his ‘A’ game. He hit George Springer with a 3-1 pitch to begin the game — Springer exited with a left hand contusion — then walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. He limited the damage to two runs in the first, but the Astros poured it on for eight runs in the second, including three-run homers from Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez.

Maxwell returns with strong game: With Vogt designated for assignment, Bruce Maxwell was promoted to assume catching duties alongside Josh Phegley, and Maxwell enjoyed a 3-for-4 day, including an RBI double as the A’s rallied in the eighth.

The other new arrival also shines: Matt Olson, also called up Thursday as Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Reddick has big day: Reddick doubled in the second, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, but didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle against his former club.

Smith steadies things on mound: : Josh Smith took over after Hahn left the game and threw three scoreless innings, striking out four and keeping manager Bob Melvin from having to empty his bullpen.