Athletics

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.
 

How A's Sheldon Neuse made smooth transition from third base to second

How A's Sheldon Neuse made smooth transition from third base to second

OAKLAND -- For just about his entire life, Sheldon Neuse has played on the left side of the infield.

Neuse played shortstop and third base in college at the University of Oklahoma before moving to the hot corner full-time as a professional. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have much of a path to the majors at third base, with some guy named Matt Chapman already occupying the position.

So after spending the entire Triple-A season at third base, Neuse moved over to second just last month. Since earning a major league call-up on August 29, he has played the position flawlessly, recording a perfect fielding percentage through 91 innings.

"I'm feeling better every day," Neuse told NBC Sports California. "I played there for about a week and a half before coming up (to the majors), but last spring training and this spring training, I've done a bunch of work there. Throughout this year, even though I played third a lot in Vegas, I still moved over and took my reps at other positions. Every day, I'm out there taking groundballs now to just try to get better. Right now I feel good, but there's always something to improve on."

Neuse, 24, says his biggest challenge has been mastering the footwork on the right side of the infield, particularly when turning a double play.

"Everything's backward from the left side of the infield," he said. "Other than that, I think everything else is coming together. I'm getting more and more comfortable every day with the flips and things like that."

Neuse made a trio of outstanding defensive plays in the A's 12-3 win over the Rangers on Saturday night. In the fourth inning, he ranged up the middle to backhand a 107-mph scorcher off the bat of Nick Solak, showing off his strong arm with an accurate throw to first.

Then in the sixth, he fielded another 107-mph grounder to retire Willie Calhoun, followed by a 103-mph one-hopper off the bat of Delino DeShields. He also helped turn a 6-4-3 double play in the first.

"Extremely (impressive)," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "For a guy who's been, not only on the other side of the diamond, but mostly third base, it's a completely different look. Then you switch to second base for a short period of time and then you're called to the big leagues and asked to play that position. I don't know that there could be a smoother transition. ... He's worked really hard with these guys and it looks like it's a natural position for him."

Neuse's bat has started to heat up recently as well. On Saturday, he went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI, raising his average to .273.

[RELATED: McGwire reflects on A's Hall of Fame induction]

"Every game, I feel more comfortable -- getting in there and getting at-bats and just trying to make the most of my opportunities," Neuse said. "This is awesome. The more reps you get, the more comfortable you get. I think that just kind of comes with it. But I'm enjoying every moment of it."

The A's are certainly enjoying Neuse's play too.
 

Slugger Mark McGwire 'ecstatic' to be inducted into A's Hall of Fame

markmcgwireashalloffameusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Slugger Mark McGwire 'ecstatic' to be inducted into A's Hall of Fame

OAKLAND -- The A's officially inducted their second Hall of Fame class Saturday night in a pre-game ceremony on the Coliseum field.

It was a star-studded class, featuring Mark McGwire, Tony La Russa, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, and Walter A. Haas Jr. For McGwire, it represented a long-awaited homecoming in Oakland, as he had to miss the 30th anniversary reunion of the 1989 World Series championship team earlier this year.

"I couldn't wait to tell my family," McGwire said of the honor. "Other than my son Matt, my family now wasn't here when this all existed. So this is the first time they get to see Oakland and Oakland rock."

McGwire did get to come to the Coliseum last season as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, but this was different. When he found out he had earned the team's Hall of Fame honor, he was deeply moved.

"I was like, 'Wow, that's really cool,'" McGwire said. "It just catches you off guard. I saw what happened last year and I was like, 'Oh they're starting to do something like that.' I didn't know if I'd get a call this year or whenever, but I was ecstatic."

McGwire still cherishes the memories of his time in Oakland, where he spent 12 seasons and made nine All-Star Games.

"We had some great runs here," McGwire said. "I played with many Hall of Fame players, stud athletes, and the third-winningest (manager) in MLB history (La Russa). I'm blessed. I'm truly blessed."

Of course, McGwire's career has been somewhat tainted by his use of performance-enhancing drugs, which has kept him out of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While he hopes to someday be enshrined in Cooperstown, he says he doesn't think about it too much these days.

"I don't," McGwire said. "If I'm blessed to get that call someday, it'd be another great day."

[RELATED: The Lonely Island spoofs Bash Brothers]

In the meantime, McGwire has enjoyed watching this year's A's team and thinks they have what it takes to make a deep run in the postseason.

"We're tied with Boston for the third-most World Series wins with nine," he said. "Just watching the way the team is playing right now, I'd say they're playing very well at the right time. So they might be breaking that little tie with the Boston Red Sox."