Cuban signee Dairon Blanco will be one of fastest players in A's organization


Cuban signee Dairon Blanco will be one of fastest players in A's organization

Despite limitations on their current international spending, the A’s added a speedy outfielder from Cuba to their system.

Oakland had been scouting Dairon Blanco extensively for the past year or so after he defected from Cuba and settled in the Dominican Republic. He officially signed with the club Monday.

Blanco, who turns 25 next month, spent four seasons playing in Cuba’s top professional league, Serie Nacional. It’s been nearly two years now since he’s played competitively, so Blanco figures to require considerable time in the minors.

But his speed grades out at 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, the highest grade possible, and he’ll instantly become one of the fastest players in the A’s organization.

“We’re thrilled,” said A’s assistant general manager Dan Feinstein, who heads up the team’s international scouting. “He’s been in the Dominican a while now, and we’ve been watching him. The first thing the jumped out to all of us is just how athletic he is. How fast he is. He’s a true ’80’ runner.”

The A’s made headlines two summers ago, signing a five-player international class that was headlined by outfielder Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros. They incurred penalties for spending over their $3.8 million bonus pool limit then. Because of that, they’re not allowed to sign any single international player for more than $300,000 in the current period, so Blanco did not break the bank.

Feinstein wouldn’t speculate on how quickly Blanco might be an option at the major league level. For now, the A’s are working to secure his visa so he can join the team this spring in Arizona. From there, they’ll decide which minor league affiliate he’ll join.

Feinstein is pleased with the development of that five-player class of teenagers that signed in July 2016. Armenteros and shortstops Marcos Brito and Yerdel Vargas all finished last season playing in the Arizona rookie league after making the permanent move to the United States.

Armenteros, one of the more highly touted international prospects to come along in recent years when the A’s signed him to a roughly $3 million bonus, hit .288 with four homers, 22 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 41 games of rookie ball. His mature physical build stands out for someone his age.

“It’s hard to believe he’s just 18,” Feinstein said.

It will be a few years still before fans see ‘Lazarito’ in the bigs. He’s likely to log time with Class A short-season Vermont in 2018. Armenteros probably won’t be among the non-roster invitees to big league camp this spring, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him brought over from the minors to fill in for an exhibition or two. Last spring, he was believed to have become the youngest player in franchise history to appear in a Cactus League game, at age 17.

POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Hatteberg's walk-off in 20th straight win vs Henderson's 130 SB in '82


POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Hatteberg's walk-off in 20th straight win vs Henderson's 130 SB in '82

PROGRAMMING NOTE: NBC Sports California is looking back at the A's 50 Memorable Moments since the franchise relocated to Oakland in 1968. Below are the next two moments you can vote on. Tune into A's Pregame Live today at 6:30 p.m. to watch highlights of the two moments. After the A's and Rangers conclude, tune into A's Postgame Live to see which moment will move on to the next round!

1. Scott Hatteberg's walk-off home run to extend A's winning streak to 20 in 2002 (New winner -- Defeated A's winning 2012 AL West title on final day of the season)

(From Ben Ross)

Every A's fan remembers where they were when Scott Hatteberg hit the biggest home run of his career. With Oakland and Kansas City tied at 11 in the bottom of the ninth, Hatteberg hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run, giving the A's their 20th straight win, a new American League record.

Incredibly, the Athletics had blown an 11-0 lead in the game. The Royals scored five runs in the fourth inning, five more in the eighth, and one in the ninth to tie the game at 11. But Hatteberg came to the rescue, sending the sellout crowd of more than 55,000 into a frenzy.

Hatteberg hit 15 home runs that season, and 106 in his career, but only this one ended up in Hollywood. Hatteberg was portrayed by Chris Pratt in the 2011 film "Moneyball."


2. Rickey Henderson steals 130 bases in 1982

(From former A's infielder/outfielder and current NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Bip Roberts)

Some guys are different. Rickey was different. Base stealers have no fear on the bases and they bring fear to all defenses. As a middle infielder, when Rickey got on base, it would shorten up my range, I'd have to get closer to second base and therefore, ground balls that wouldn't normally get through would get through for hits. So what Rickey really did was, as a guy who really wanted to emulate what Rickey did,  was he showed us an image of what lead-off hitters and base-stealers could do and how we could take over games and he became one of our favorites and we all tried to emulate that.

When you start thinking about stealing over 100 bases... you start thinking about health because you know that you're going to be taking a pounding. And Rickey didn't slide feet-first, he went head-first which means that he was always suspectable to injury whether it be fingers, wrist, or jamming a shoulder or maybe getting tagged at the top of the head and hurting his neck. So there was always a risk.

But to steal over 130 bases in one season, and in 1982 was really my first year in Pro Ball and I thought if that's the goal, that's the bar, I don't know how anyone's going to reach that bar because no one had stole that many bases before and not only stole that many bases, but really changed the game like Rickey did because now the pitchers paid more attention to us base-stealers. Pitchers started releasing the ball in 1.5 seconds and all of a sudden Rickey totally changed the game and it was a record that we never thought would be broken.


Khris Davis leaves (and receives) lasting impression with special fan

Khris Davis leaves (and receives) lasting impression with special fan

OAKLAND -- Baseball is just a game. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you are battling for playoff position and every game matters. 

For Oakland A’s slugger Khris Davis, he was reminded of this fact during pregame on Monday evening when a special guest dropped by the dugout to meet him. 

Anthony Slocumb, a sixth grader from Claremont Middle School in Oakland, is a big-time fan of Davis. He’s also in remission after battling a rare cancer called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.

Before the game, Slocumb met Davis as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and asked for an autograph. Davis returned the favor, having the 10-year-old sign the back of his jersey before the A’s took on the Texas Rangers.

With blue ink sprawled across the back of his uniform, Davis stepped to the plate and gave Slocumb an incredible memory to hold onto, blasting a towering shot into the left field bleachers.

“There was a lot of emotion with those kid’s situation,” Davis said following the game. “It’s the worst situation you can be in, probably. I just wanted to put a smile on his face and thought maybe it would mean something if I had him my jersey signed by him.” 

These events play out often in professional sports, but Davis was moved by his experience Monday. The A’s leader in home runs crushed a ball that careened off a luxury box window an estimated 438 feet from home plate.

As he rounded the bases, he did so with his newly found friend in mind. 

“I thought about him around the bases,” Davis said. “There’s not a better feeling than hitting a home run. And if he got some excitement and joy from watching that ... I hope he saw it.”  

Davis only had a few minutes to spend with Slocumb before the game, but it left him energized. The home run was Davis' 37th of the season, tying for second place in the majors, one behind the Red Sox’ J.D. Martinez. 

When asked whether he considered swapping out for a new jersey before the game, Davis gave a definitive - “no.” 

“I wanted to rock that. I wanted him to know I was thinking about him,” Davis said. 

The A’s are having a season of big moments. Coming away with a 9-0 win over the Rangers is great for the win/loss record, but for one fan, this was a game he’ll never forget.