BURLINGTON, IA — One of the most intriguing prospects to come through Beloit in years spent his 19th birthday last week playing baseball. And there was no place he would have rather been, given the path he traveled to get there.
Cuban native Lazaro Armenteros, nicknamed Lazarito, is getting his first taste of full-season pro ball this spring and is enjoying his time with the Snappers.
“This is really a good experience for me because this is my first time coming out of Arizona and being in Beloit,” said Armenteros through interpreter Juan Dilone, who is the Snappers’ hitting coach. “Everything sounds really good right now, so I’m doing the best I can and working hard. I like the way my teammates are treating me.”
For Lazarito, that included spending his 19th birthday in left field and playing in Beloit against Peoria on May 22nd. Many prospects from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela face struggles during their first go-around in America. And for many of them, the least of their concerns is playing the game of baseball.
“My biggest challenge has been leaving my family behind … my mother and my son,” Lazarito said. “That has been tough for me at times, but I’m working through it. I’m feeling really good about where I am. Four years ago, I wasn’t thinking that I’d be right here right now. I’m enjoying it. As soon as I cross those lines, I’m just doing the best job I can.”
It’s been a rollercoaster 25-game ride through the Midwest League for Lazarito. He’s reached base safely in eight of his last 10 games and is boasting an OPS of over .800 through 91 at-bats. After homering twice in his first four games, the 6-foot-0, 185-pound outfielder enjoyed a 3-for-5 outing on May 12th against Lansing.
Lazarito’s current slash line resides at .275/.368/.440, which is not too far off his debut last summer with the AZL A’s as an 18-year old. There, he started off slowly before heating up in the desert over the final month of the season to finish at .288/.376/.474 in 41 games.
The Oakland A’s pushed its eighth-rated prospect to Beloit after a short time at extended this spring, and he’s enjoying the tutelage of the team’s hitting coach.
“Everybody in the whole organization is impressed by him, because the talent he has is so amazing,” Dilone said. “It’s easier for us to approach any kind of detail, especially in the hitter part, because he’s so smart about it. He really works hard.
“Those people in Cuba have a lot of knowledge of the game of baseball and learn pretty quick. Just like in the Dominican Republic, we start playing ball at an early age. It’s easier for us to do any kind of approach or adjustment in hitting and running the bases.”
Given Lazarito just turned 19 last week, Dilone is careful not to put too much on the youngster’s plate.
“The only thing I have in mind for him is to just play the game,” he said. “You know how to play the game, just go out there and do it. I don’t want him to put any pressure on himself; I want him to have fun. He’s doing a great job so far on defense, hitting and running the bases hard.”
Not surprisingly, Lazarito is embracing his role with a Snappers team that features other top prospects such as Austin Beck and Nick Allen.
“I’m working on the simple stuff right now,” he said. “The organization has in mind for me to just to play the game. They know it’s a long season, so just play ball and do the basic stuff. I’m focused on seeing the ball and hitting it…the little details in my approach.
“My only approach in the batter’s box is to try to hit the ball hard and not taking my eyes off the ball. I’m trying to go right back through the middle. The command of the pitchers is different in Arizona. Here is a higher level, so they have a better command. I’m adjusting to it.”
The potential is there for Lazarito to move quickly through the system and perhaps one day become the next Cuban phenom to join the big-league club. Dilone said he sees in Lazarito a lot of what he did in former A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
“He reminds me a lot of Cespedes when we got him,” Dilone said. “He has the same mentality as he and (Yasiel) Puig. He’s really aggressive like those guys and that’s been awesome for him. One of the biggest things is his swing is pretty similar to what Cespedes had when he came here. He’s already strong and is only going to get stronger.”
For right now, Lazarito will likely spend all of the 2018 with the Snappers before setting his sights on the California League next spring.
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