Ramon Laureano tasted a face full of turf as he recorded the first out of the Quad-Cities River Bandits’ most recent home game.
His diving catch in right field set a hustling, determined defensive tone that helped lead to a win, one game after the Quad-Cities outfielder threw out the same leadoff hitter from left field as he tried to stretch a game-opening single into a double.
“That’s what he does,’’ River Bandits manager Josh Bonifay said. “I don’t think people appreciate enough what guys in the outfield do. He moves from left to center to right for us and in all three positions, he makes plays. That’s hard and it shows the quality of outfielder that he is.’’
Laureano joined Quad-Cities from extended spring training on May 29, taking the roster spot that opened when Derek Fisher was promoted to high-A Lancaster.
In the 37 games he has played in the outfield, Laureano has recorded a River Bandits season-best six outfield assists.
His quickness combined with a blend of arm strength and accuracy have led to the type of consistency that Laureano expects in his game.
“I’ve always felt like my job is to get to every ball I can and make every play I can,’’ Laureano said. “I owe that to the team. Anybody who gets a chance to be on the field should do what he can to make the most of any opportunity he gets.’’
And whether that means running down a ball in the corner or throwing a laser to second or third base to record another out, that is a part of who Laureano is.
“My game has always started with defense. If I see a ball, I’m going to run at it, even if it is a foul ball,’’ he said. “That has become habit.’’
Laureano developed those habits on the diamond in the Dominican Republic, where he first played the game as an eight-year old and where baseball provided him an opportunity to move to the United States seven years later and compete as a high school athlete in Long Island.
“Growing up, I would play baseball every day. It was what I wanted to do when I was a kid,’’ he said. “Every day, I would go out and work on my game. It was fun. I was eight. It was a game. It became what I did.’’
That led Laureano to the chance to move to New York, where he attended the Upper Room Christian School in Dix Hills, N.Y.
He lived there with a host family, learned to speak English and began to refine his skills on the diamond.
“When I got there, I could say ‘Hello’ but that was about it,’’ Laureano said. “I learned so much there. It helped me with my academics and in baseball, the coaches there taught the details of the game. All the little things that make a big difference, how to do things the right way, I learned them there.’’
Laureano competed at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before Houston selected him in the 16th round of the 2014 draft.
A broken hand limited him to 16 games last season at Greeneville, where Laureano hit .189.
After completing his rehab work, he returned to the Dominican Republic in the offseason and trained at the Astros’ Latin American headquarters in Guerra, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
“I hoped to make this club coming out of spring training, but the one thing I saw there is just how many good outfielders there are in the system,’’ Laureano said. “It motivates me to work that much harder every day.’’
Laureano became the third River Bandits player to reach a double-digit steals total when he swiped his 10th base in 12 attempts during a Monday game against Cedar Rapids.
After belting homers for his first two hits in the Midwest League, Laureano has hit .322 over his last 10 games. That has allowed him to raise his season average to .288, but his work at the plate continues.
“I work every day in the cage, trying to become a better hitter. (Quad-Cities hitting coach Joel Chimelis) has helped me with my mechanics and approach, taught me to stay within myself,’’ Laureano said. “I still have work to do, but I understand that.’’
That helps Laureano thrive.
“You can always get better in this game,’’ he said. “That is my motivation every day.’’