Athletics

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.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's can't find answers vs Keuchel

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Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as A's can't find answers vs Keuchel

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Sean Manaea was much improved Friday night over his previous three starts for the A’s.

Unfortunately for the left-hander, he had no control over the work of his counterpart on the mound.

Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel was at his ground ball-inducing best, frustrating the A’s over seven scoreless innings as Houston continued its recent dominance over Oakland with a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

Keuchel recorded 17 of his 21 outs via ground ball, an astonishing rate but typical of the way the 2015 AL Cy Young winner likes to do business. He entered the night leading the major leagues in groundball percentage (64.7) among those with at least 90 innings pitched. Keuchel (11-2) got a big assist from his infield defense, particularly third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.

Manaea went six innings and gave up three runs, including back-to-back solo homers from Bregman and Jose Altuve in the third. But it was a definite step forward after his previous three outings, in which he surrendered 13 earned runs and 21 hits over just 6 2/3 innings.

The A’s mustered just five hits. Aside from Matt Joyce’s homer in the eighth, they didn’t advance a single runner past second base.

Oakland has dropped 11 of 13 games to Houston so far this season.

IMPROVED SHOWING: After showing signs of fatigue in his recent starts, Manaea showed improved form simply based on the batters he retired. His fastball generally sat between 89-91, still a bit below normal, but he overall pitched more effectively and turned in his longest outing since going seven innings July 27. He gave up six hits over his six innings, struck out two and walked one. A wild pitch in the sixth hurt, as it set up Josh Reddick’s RBI single.

HEY, IT’S PROGRESS: Seeing Manaea get through a scoreless first inning was noteworthy, as the A’s had gone five consecutive games with allowing at least one run in the first.

PINDER DEBUTS IN CENTER: Matt Olson entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, then went to right field in the bottom half. That pushed Chad Pinder over to center field, his first time playing the position in the major leagues. Manager Bob Melvin has mentioned Pinder is likely to draw some starts in center before the end of the season.

STRIKEOUTS MOUNTING FOR KD: After striking out four times Wednesday, the A’s cleanup man struck out three more times Friday. His 158 strikeouts entering the night were tied for eighth most in franchise history.

CATCHING UPDATE: Josh Phegley, coming back from a strained oblique, has played two games for Triple-A Nashville on a rehab assignment. Melvin said the A’s are not going to rush Phegley. Part of that is they think highly of the work Dustin Garneau has done in his place as the right-handed portion of the catching platoon with Bruce Maxwell.

After country music detour, Giles instrumental in A's ballpark quest

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After country music detour, Giles instrumental in A's ballpark quest

As the A’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Giles’ thoughts and energies are wired into the business world, helping the team plan for a new ballpark and brainstorming all ways possible to bring in more revenue.

From talking to him, you wouldn’t guess that Giles once walked away from the white-collar sports management world to pursue a country music career.

Giles left a vice president position with the 49ers in November 2015, picking up an acoustic guitar, writing and recording a three-song EP, “Party Me”, that he performed at club shows all around Northern California.

He still performs once or twice a month on the weekend. It’s quite a contrast from his Monday-thru-Friday gig, but that’s exactly the point. In the lyrics to the song “Party Me”, Giles addresses the ambition and drive required in the 9-to-5 world and the reward of blowing off steam with buddies afterward.

“It’s a hobby, I’ll always do it,” Giles shares in the latest edition of The A’s Insider Podcast. “I still play once or twice a month locally, small acoustic stuff.”

Giles grew up in Clovis and sang in talent shows as a kid before becoming a high school wrestler.

“Randy Travis was my favorite as a kid,” he said. “I can remember writing his lyrics on construction paper and giving it to girls on the playground.”

Giles’ career in sales and marketing eventually led him to the 49ers, where he became VP of sales and strategy and played an instrumental role in the opening of Levi’s Stadium. He oversaw premium sales, seat license sales, concessions and retail among other responsibilities.

But he never lost his desire to pursue a music career.

“It was one of those things where I felt like if I didn’t give it a try, then I would always just regret it,” said Giles, who is married with three kids. “I enjoy writing songs, I love playing live. I was running around with a couple other artists, we were collaborating on a couple things. It just seemed like a logical point to give it a go.”

He eventually returned to the sports world with the NFL, running sales and marketing efforts for Super Bowl LI. But it’s his experience with the launch of Levi’s Stadium that appears to make him an especially good fit with the A’s, who plan to announce by the end of the calendar year a location in Oakland to build a new ballpark.

Opening a new stadium is one thing. Finding ways to maximize revenue from that venue is another, and that’s where Giles’ expertise factors in. He’s got an instrumental voice in how the ballpark will be designed and what features it will include.

He came aboard in an advisory role for A’s president Dave Kaval in March and was named the team’s COO in early July. Joining the franchise at this point, with so many ambitious plans for the future, is energizing to him.

“I think we’re approaching a rocket ship that’s sitting on the ground,” Giles said. “We’re not quite sure which rocket boosters work, but we know we’ve got a rocket ship. Our job is to make sure we tune that thing up and get it ready to go.”