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.”

Kaval: A's considering future move into Raiders' locker room

Kaval: A's considering future move into Raiders' locker room

OAKLAND — The Raiders are likely to play at the Coliseum for the next two seasons at least, but the A’s are daydreaming about the time they can finally call the venue their own.

One idea they’re considering is moving their home clubhouse into the space that currently serves as the Raiders locker room, which would more than double the current space they have.

Beyond that, imagine the possibility of the A’s current clubhouse being transformed into a “club” type area for fans to schmooze and enjoy some beverages. Team president Dave Kaval says both ideas are on the table for after the Raiders move to Las Vegas, which they’re planning to do for the 2020 NFL season.

The No. 1 long-term goal for the A’s, obviously, is to find a location in Oakland and build a new baseball-only stadium. The homework continues on that front, with Kaval maintaining the promise for that announcement to come sometime in 2017.

The Raiders have lease options to play at the Coliseum for each of the next two football seasons, with their plans for 2019 uncertain as their Vegas stadium is built.

Regardless, there will be a gap from the time the Raiders execute their move and the time the A’s are ready to move into their potential new digs. They apparently plan to make the most of that time at the Coliseum, which is the only two-sport complex remaining in major North American professional sports.

Kaval addressed the idea of shifting the home clubhouse into the Raiders’ locker room space.

“Well, it’s considerably bigger than our current locker room, and so we could have a more player-friendly area, more lounge space, be more spread out,” he said as the A’s wrapped up a 10-game homestand Sunday. “Even space for training facilities we don’t have now. And so it just provides a lot more flexibility, and a better draw for players if they want to play here in Oakland.”

That last statement shouldn’t be overlooked. As much as current Athletics would appreciate any upgrades to their day-to-day situation at the Coliseum, the improvements might also help a bit when it comes to attracting prospective free agents, who could be sold the idea of better conditions at the Coliseum and the promise of a brand new ballpark to come.

The A’s try to make use of every inch of space available in the current Coliseum set-up, but it’s an antiquated situation to say the least. Players sprawled out on the floor doing stretching exercises outside the A’s weight room often have to deal with reporters stepping around them as they get off the media elevator.

“I think it could be huge,” catcher Stephen Vogt said of possibly shifting the clubhouse to the Raiders’ locker room. “There’s triple the size of what we have. It’s kind of funny to think that we have the smaller locker room but they’re here for (only) 10 days a year basically. That’s just the way it is. If they are truly leaving and they’re not gonna be here, we could really utilize that space.”

Added Kaval: “We do have space in here, but when it’s a multi-purpose stadium it’s always challenging. Everything we’ve had to do over the years has been temporary.”

One consideration regarding the Raiders’ locker room: It’s a farther walk to the entrance of the field, with an extra flight of stairs to climb. That’s something to consider because baseball players tend to make quick trips back to the clubhouse during a game more so than football players do to their locker room.

But Kaval said he’s already talked to A’s manager Bob Melvin about some of the logistical challenges, and he emphasized that any changes wouldn’t happen without positive feedback from the coaching staff and players.

One change the A’s already have implemented this season with players in mind: They’ve dedicated an expanded luxury suite area solely for players’ families during games and also expanded the nanny service they provide for players’ children during games.

As for the A’s ballpark search, Kaval says the four sites the A’s are considering are all “neck and neck” — the current Coliseum site, Howard Terminal, a site near Laney College and one at Brooklyn Basin, on the other side of Highway 880 from Laney.

“We continue to have meetings with all the key stakeholders,” Kaval said. “I think we’re really happy about the acceleration of those meetings. We’re starting to talk more business terms, starting to get into some of the final feasibility (decisions) so we can make that final announcement this year on a location.”

A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

A's find themselves in decent shape with Graveman, Gray possibly returning

OAKLAND — Some 10-9 records are better than others, and so it is that the A’s can hit the road for a nine-game trip feeling pretty good about themselves.

Their just-completed homestand began with Opening Night starter Kendall Graveman leaving a game early and landing on the disabled list. That was coupled with news that shortstop Marcus Semien would be lost for two months or more with a fractured wrist.

The A’s responded to those developments with a five-game winning streak that was halted by Sunday’s 11-1 rout at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.

The A’s went 5-4 on the homestand, holding their ground after a heavy dose of injury misfortune, and now the outlook changes just a bit. The focus shifts from the players joining the D.L. to those that could soon return to provide a boost.

Graveman, who has a strained right shoulder, is scheduled to throw off the mound Monday. If that goes well, expect him to be activated sometime in the early portion of the upcoming trip. Sonny Gray, who has been out since injuring a side muscle early in Cactus League games, is set to throw Thursday for Triple-A Nashville after an encouraging rehab outing Saturday for Single-A Stockton.

If Gray comes out of Thursday’s start well, look for the 2015 All-Star to join the active roster and pitch sometime against Minnesota in the final series of this road trip. Nothing can be taken for granted until both pitchers actually return healthy, but it’s a promising scenario to possibly add two starters of their caliber as April turns to May.

“I think any time you look up and you’re over .500 and you’ve had a great homestand and you’re missing your best two pitchers, that’s something to be pleased about,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Getting Kendall back is huge. And Sonny obviously did great last night, and felt great, which is more important than the results.

“We’re excited to get those two guys back but in the meantime, we’re gonna continue to keep playing the way we are because we’re playing really good baseball and we’ll just keep things rolling.”

It was clear early on Sunday that a five-game winning streak wouldn’t reach six. The Mariners led 2-0 in the third when Andrew Triggs missed location on a 1-0 sinker and Taylor Motter launched a grand slam over the wall in left-center.

Triggs, who excelled at missing the fat part of bats over his first three starts, didn’t have the feel for his cutter Sunday. When he fell behind to Motter, the cutter is normally a pitch he would have gone to had it been working for him.

“I wasn’t commanding well,” he said. “I didn’t wanna go 1-0 to 2-0. I felt better going with the sinker. I got it down, but missed location in and out. In a perfect world, the cutter would have been great to get a groundout.”

But to this point, the A’s rotation has held firm without Gray and with the short-term absence of Graveman. Perhaps the biggest test moving forward is whether an offense that is tied for the American League lead in extra-base hits can continue to produce consistently with Semien’s absence, particularly without anyone having established themselves as the regular leadoff man.

A’s manager Bob Melvin likes what he’s seen from his team in light of the injuries.

“Every game we go out there there’s an expectation to win,” Melvin said, “and when you win multiple games in a row, you get that feeling and it’s a little more significant. So hopefully we can carry that on to the road trip. As a group, we’ve been able to manage these injuries here recently, and once we start getting guys back it’s gonna be a good thing for us.”