Athletics

A's prospect Austin Beck showing all five tools, impressing Oakland brass

A's prospect Austin Beck showing all five tools, impressing Oakland brass

STOCKTON – Just over two years ago, Austin Beck became the A's highest draft pick to come straight out of high school since the club selected Ben Grieve No. 2 overall in 1994. Oakland drafted Beck with the No. 6 pick of the 2017 MLB Draft at the young age of 18.

"It was an awesome day," Beck told NBC Sports California. "I remember I got a call about a week before the draft from (MLB Network analyst) Harold Reynolds. He asked, 'Hey, do you want to come up to the draft studio and do the draft here?' I was like, 'Unless you've got 100 plane tickets, I can't go. I've got to have my family and friends by my side.' So I had a huge party at my house. It was a very stressful day, needless to say, but it was a very fun experience."

During his senior season at North Davidson High School in North Carolina, Beck hit a ridiculous .590 with 12 home runs while playing center field. He blew the A's away with his combination of speed and athleticism, not to mention his raw power.

"The talent is there," said A's assistant general manager/director of player personnel Billy Owens. "He definitely can defend center field, he's got a powerful throwing arm, he's got a swing that can manipulate the baseball and go to all fields, and the raw power is definitely in there. So he's got a chance to be a five-tool player."

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the A's No. 5 prospect, Beck spent last season with the Class-A Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League, slashing .296/.335/.383 and leading the league with 146 hits. While he only hit two home runs, he notched 29 doubles, four triples, and 60 RBI.

"He's got the ability to make contact to all fields," Owens said. "He's got power that's going to come to prominence as he rises through the organization and gets to the higher levels. And he's a really good defender in center field. So it's just more about him getting that experience under his belt and going forward."

Beck began this season in High-A with the Stockton Ports of the California League. After a slow start, the 20-year-old has hit .409 over his last 12 games to raise his slash line to .258/.309/.461, and he has already belted six homers.

"I got to the Cal League knowing that the ball flew really well, better than Beloit, so my swing was a little too big," Beck explained. "I got in the habit of trying to hit homers. So I slowed everything down and fixed everything. I started swinging the bat really well the past month. I saw the ball, wouldn't swing at pitches out of the zone, just kind of stayed with my approach and stayed up the middle and started hitting the ball well."

A's general manager David Forst has been pleased with Beck's adjustments and subsequent improvements over the past two years.

"I think we continue to see a lot of progress from Austin," Forst told NBC Sports California. "He held his own in his first full season last year and went into Stockton this year and we saw some power numbers right away, which was nice. ... The reports continue to be good."

Beck raves about the A's organization and says he has already developed great relationships with members of the current big league squad.

"It's great," he said. "(The organization) is very laid-back, which I like. I've hung out with some of the big league guys in spring training. I've texted back and forth, just trying to pick their brains about baseball in general and the mental side of the game. ... It's been great."

Beck has received plenty of advice since turning pro, but he says the best advice came from Khris Davis.

[RELATED: Kaprielian making progress after injury]

"I talked to KD during the (preseason) Bay Bridge series and we were talking about how the mental side is one of the biggest parts of the game. If you're not mentally strong, this game is going to eat you alive. He told me to take it one day at a time, one at-bat at a time, and just flush it.

"That's kind of been my motto ever since I came out of high school -- just flush things. Baseball is 70 percent failure. It's a hard game as it is. So if you just flush every bad at-bat and move on, then you'll be fine."
 

Why Ramon Laureano's power surge doesn't surprise A's manager Bob Melvin

Why Ramon Laureano's power surge doesn't surprise A's manager Bob Melvin

OAKLAND -- Just by looking at Ramón Laureano, you'd have no idea he could crush baseballs as far as he does.

The A's centerfielder stands at 5-foot-11 and is more well-known for his blazing speed, but this season, he has truly become a bona fide slugger.

Laureano, 24, blasted his 18th home run of the year Sunday, helping the A's sweep the White Sox, 3-2. His 18 homers rank third on the team and are three away from passing Coco Crisp for the most round-trippers by an Oakland centerfielder in the last 19 years.

Laureano's power surge might come as a surprise to some, but not Bob Melvin.

"At some point in time, we felt like he had a chance to be a 30-home-run guy," the A's manager said. "Maybe on pace a little sooner than we expected based on experience in the big leagues. But not (surprised) at all if you watch him take (batting practice). He's a strong guy all the way around, whether it's throwing arm, whether it's speed -- he stole a base today pretty easily -- and he's got a lot of power. So understanding the league, making adjustments and so forth, no not a surprise to me."

The power aspect of Laureano's game is relatively new, however. Prior to this season, he had never hit more than 15 home runs at any level of professional baseball. Laureano credits his weight room work -- he added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason -- and plate adjustments for the improvement.

"Over the years, I get older and bigger," he said. "(The power) will come. I just try to help the team win in whatever (way) I can."

Laureano has been especially productive as of late. Sunday marked his fourth home run in the last five games and his 12th since the start of June. He's also shown the ability to hit the long ball to all parts of the field, including center and right.

"Just stay back (on the ball)," Laureano said of his main plate adjustment. "That's it."

Incredibly, Laureano has hit two more homers than reigning home run champion Khris Davis this season. He trails Matt Olson by just one long ball and Matt Chapman by three for the team lead.

[RELATED: A's acquire Bailey from Royals]

Perhaps most importantly, Laureano's increase in power has not caused a drop in any other part of his game. He is still reaching base and using his speed on offense, and of course, his centerfield arm remains spectacular.

We've said this before, but the A's really owe the Astros a nice gift basket for letting Laureano get away.
 

A's bolster rotation by acquiring Homer Bailey in trade with Royals

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A's bolster rotation by acquiring Homer Bailey in trade with Royals

OAKLAND -- The A's officially have begun their annual trade deadline wheeling and dealing.

Sunday morning, Oakland acquired veteran starting pitcher Homer Bailey from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for minor league middle infielder Kevin Merrell. Bailey, 33, is expected to make his first start for the A's on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners.

"He's been pitching really well as of late," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Bailey. "He's beaten some good teams this year. Before he got hurt, obviously, he was an electric arm and it seems like he's coming back to form at this point. I think it makes our rotation better and I think that's the objective at this point."

To Melvin's point, Bailey is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA in his last eight starts. For the season, the right-hander is 7-6 with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and has battled injuries since then, but appears to now be healthy.

"I think (our) players feel these things," Melvin said. "They want to feel like the front office is going out and making us better and typically they do that. It certainly doesn't mean we're done, but it's nice to get somebody in the rotation that we feel like is going to make us better."

Bailey spent his first 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, throwing a pair of no-hitters in 2012 and 2013. This past offseason, he signed a minor league deal with the Royals. The A's only will be responsible for about $250,000 of his league-minimum salary.

As for Merrell, the former first-round draft pick was ranked as Oakland's number 17 prospect by MLB Pipeline. The 23-year-old was slashing .246/.292/.339 with two home runs, 34 RBI and 13 stolen bases this season at Double-A Midland. Merrell has top-notch speed but scouts have had concerns about his hitting ability.

[RELATED: Bassitt makes adjustment after advice from A's veterans]

The A's are still expected to add more pitching before Major League Baseball's July 31 Trade Deadline. Oakland likely will seek bullpen help and potentially could add another starter.