Down East manager Howard Johnson is hesitant to put any comparison on Luis La O. But the former Major League slugger knows a thing or two about hitting, so he doesn't lightly drop a name like David Wright in reference to his 25-year-old infielder.
La O went a career-best 5-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs to help rally Class A Advanced Down East past Carolina, 9-7, on Wednesday night at Five County Stadium. The Wood Ducks trailed after two innings, 6-0, before rallying for eight runs over the final three frames.
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The 25-year-old sported a .329/.388/.406 slash line in 1,338 plate appearances in Cuba's Serie Nacional before defecting in 2015. La O signed with the Rangers in January and has spent the entire season in the Carolina League, amassing a team-high 107 hits while hitting .292/.341/.420 in 96 games.
Video: Down East's La O rips RBI single for fifth hit
"When people see him play, they recognize what he does really well offensively," Johnson said. "He has the building blocks to be a very good hitter and what he's been able to do lately is lay of the borderline strike and lock in on good pitches to hit. He's got a good swing and quick hands.
"He's come a long way from earlier this year when he really wasn't familiar with the American style of baseball. The way we do things, the different types of pitches and the speed of the game are different. He hadn't seen any of that, but he's caught on very fast and has come a long, long way. The biggest challenge for us is to make sure he stays up to speed on defense and with his baserunning. It's been a big learning curve for him."
La O doubled to left field in his first two at-bats, the second plating Matt Lipka in the third inning with the Wood Ducks' first run. The third baseman singled to left in the fifth and beat out an infield hit for his second RBI in the seventh. His two-out single to left the next frame scored Lipka again to bring Down East within a run. Carlos Garay followed with a go-ahead two-run homer to left, his first Carolina League tater.
Even with the four previous hits under his belt, that last at-bat by La O was what really impressed Johnson.
"It was big. He had two strikes on him and he did a real nice job of laying off some pitches," the two-time All-Star said. "It shows the discipline needed to be a good hitter. If you have good hands and good vision like Luis does, you have the ability to lay off those borderline pitches and that's what he was able to do. That last at-bat was monstrous for us."
The Cuba native got off to a hot start in his first month as a Minor Leaguer, hitting .333 in April. Although La O leveled has leveled off some, he was named a Carolina League Midseason All-Star and has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games to bring his average up to its highest level since he was batting .297 on June 12.
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"It's hard to come up with a similar player that he's like here in the States," HoJo said. "But if I had to pick a guy, I think I'd say David Wright. He's a guy who can wait you out and hurt you within the strike zone. He can run well and do a lot of things offensively that is somewhat similar."
Lipka singled twice, scored twice and drove in two runs for the Wood Ducks. Josh Altmann went 2-for-2 with two runs and three walks.
Second-ranked Brewers prospect Corey Ray and No. 14 Monte Harrison both hit three-run homers for the Mudcats.