Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 35-31

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, we will profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects, 35-31.

35. Daniel Straily

Straily reduced his BB/9 and his HR/9.

Since being selected in the 24th round in 2009, Straily has been a solid, if under-the-radar, performer. In 2011, he made a few adjustments to his arsenal and put together an excellent season with High-A Stockton. Going into next year, he will no longer be under any radars within the A's organization.

The 6'2'' right-hander posted a 3.87 ERA and had a 154:40 K:BB ratio in 160.2 innings. Despite pitching in the offensive-friendly California League, Straily allowed only 10 homeruns. He had one poor month (May, during which he had a 7.16 ERA), but he otherwise had ERAs of 3.35 or better in the other months of the season.

"Daniel Straily pitched well this year. He definitely improved his velocity, up to 94-95, with a good slider. Very, very competitive kid," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.

In addition to his improved velocity, Straily was able to rely on an effective change-up for the first time in his professional career. He also improved his command, especially down in the strike-zone. Those adjustments resulted in a drop from his 2010 totals in his HR/9 and BB/9 rates, as well as his WHIP and ERA.

Now that he has a change-up to go along with his solid fastball and sharp slider, Straily has all of the tools he needs to make that difficult jump from A-ball to Double-A. He has a starter's build and has been extremely durable since turning pro. The A's have a number of promising arms moving to the Double-A level next season and Straily will be one of the top names in that group.

34. Shane Peterson

Peterson played well for Sacramento, but struggled for Midland.

It was a strange season for Peterson. The outfielder/first baseman began the year in the same place he had spent the final half of the 2009 season and all of 2010 – Double-A Midland.

Two weeks into the season, Peterson finally got the break he had been looking for, as injuries opened a spot for him in Triple-A. He took advantage of that promotion – batting .293/.377/.479 in 46 games with the River Cats. That performance wasn't enough to prevent Peterson from being sent back to Double-A when players returned from injury, however, and he wasn't able to maintain the same level of performance for the rest of the season with the Rockhounds. He posted an OPS under 700 after his return. Disappointment about being demoted may have played into that poor performance.

Peterson was one of three prospects acquired by the A's from St. Louis for Matt Holliday and is the only one who remains in the A's organization from that trade. He has been dogged with the "tweener" label since turning pro. He doesn't have the raw power of most corner outfielders and first basemen or the speed of a centerfielder. However, he has an excellent approach at the plate and a solid glove both in the outfield and at first base. A's officials believe Peterson has the potential to hit for more power than he has shown thus far. He has always had excellent contact skills and the ability to get on-base at a good clip.

Since joining the A's organization, Peterson has been stuck behind several other outfielders and first basemen in the system and that may continue into 2012, as Oakland has already acquired four Triple-A veterans who play either primarily in the outfield or first base. For Peterson to leap frog any of those players, he will need either to raise his batting average above .300 or hit for more power. Improving against left-handed pitchers could up Peterson's numbers in those categories considerably. He hit under .200 versus southpaws in 2011.

Although it seems like Peterson has been around for awhile, he is still relatively young. He will turn 24 just before the start of the 2012 season.

33. Arnold Leon

Leon should be back at full strength this spring.

After an impressive first two seasons to start his professional career, Leon's last two seasons have been quiet. The right-hander was felled by an elbow injury only weeks into the 2010 season and wound-up having Tommy John surgery. He would miss the rest of the 2010 season. The A's were hopeful that Leon would be able to return for the final two months of the 2011 campaign, but a set-back limited him to five appearances, all for the A's Rookie League team.

The good news is that Leon is expected to be back to full strength at the start of spring training in 2012. Although his velocity hadn't quite returned to his pre-surgery levels, Leon was throwing regularly and without pain during the A's fall Instructional League. He is likely to gain arm strength and confidence in his ability to throw without restriction during the off-season.

"Arnold Leon is a smart kid," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.

"The first time I met him when he came over here four years ago, he did not speak one syllable of English. Now his English is full bore. He's bi-lingual. He picks things up quickly and he's a strike thrower. He's not back all the way velocity-wise to where he was in Double-A a few years ago, but he's definitely on the rise and I'm optimistic for sure that he will achieve that by the end of spring training next year."

Despite the two lost seasons, Leon is still in good position for a long major league career. He made his professional debut in High-A at age 19 and will be 23 throughout the 2012 minor league season. He pitched well at the Double-A level as a 20-year-old in 2009 and, assuming a full recovery, he could reach Triple-A by the end of the 2012 campaign.

When healthy, Leon's strength is his ability to throw strikes and his breaking ball, which is a plus pitch. Leon's fastball generally sits in the 88-91 range, but he can hit 93 when he is pitching in relief. His fastball has good sink and he generally generates a lot of groundballs.

Leon began his professional career as a reliever, in large part because the A's were trying to limit his innings, as he was pitching year-round thanks to his winterball commitments in Mexico. Leon was moved into the starting rotation during the second half of the 2009 season and was successful in that role for Double-A Midland. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Leon will likely be limited to 100 innings in 2012, but those innings are likely to come in the starting rotation given that he hasn't pitched in winterball for the past two seasons.

32. Chad Lewis

Lewis made improvements at Instructs.

It was a season for learning for Lewis, who was selected by the A's out of high school in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He spent the first half of the season with the A's Phoenix-based coaching staff at extended spring training and then played for short-season Vermont during the second half of the year. Lewis collected 40 RBIs in 70 games, but struggled generally at the plate. He posted a .238/.279/.332 line in 265 at-bats.

Despite the poor numbers, there were a number of positive moments for Lewis during the season. He hit four regular season homeruns and another during the post-season and most were no-doubters. He also hit .292 with runners in scoring position.

"Chad has all of the ability in the world. You know it is in there," A's Assistant GM David Forst said.

"It's really a matter of him learning the game and, frankly, just growing into his body. He has the physicality to be a corner guy and a middle of the order bat."

During the A's fall Instructional League, Lewis worked on being more selective at the plate and recognizing pitches earlier. His work at Instructs and his strong finish during the Lake Monsters' post-season run left Lewis feeling confident heading into the off-season. In the field, he has continued to improve his footwork at third base and has gained more experience at first base, as well.

Lewis has the potential to put together big numbers at any time, but it's hard to know when it will all come together for him. The A's won't rush Lewis, who will be 20 throughout the 2012 season. He will likely spend the year with Low-A Burlington and should remain with the Bees for the entire season.

31. T.J. Walz

Walz has impressed the A's brass since being drafted.

The A's liked what they saw from Walz while he was pitching for the University of Kansas so much that they drafted him twice, first in round 50 in 2010 and then again in round 15 in 2011. Walz was committed to finishing his college degree and his baseball career with the Jayhawks, so he didn't sign in 2010, but signed on the dotted line quickly in 2011.

The A's loved what they saw from Walz once he turned pro this summer. A record-holding starter at Kansas, Walz was kept in a relief role with short-season Vermont and Low-A Burlington so the A's could keep his innings total down after a long college season. The A's plan to move Walz back into the rotation next season.

As a reliever, Walz had a 1.99 ERA in 40.2 innings for the Lake Monsters and the Bees. He struck-out 43 and walked only 10 while giving up just two homeruns. He was particularly dominant with the Lake Monsters, allowing only a run in 22 innings.

Walz features a four-pitch mix – a fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. The A's love his make-up on the mound. He pounds the strike-zone and isn't afraid to challenge hitters or pitch inside.

"Walz has no fear. He goes out there and attacks hitters," Assistant GM David Forst said.

The six-foot right-hander is a bit undersized as a starter and, as a senior draft pick, he will be on the older side of the prospect curve if he starts next season with Low-A Burlington. He will be 23 all of next season. There is a good chance that he will start the year in the High-A Stockton rotation and even if he does begin the year with Burlington, he could rocket up the system quickly, much like A.J. Griffin did in 2011.

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