Oakland A's Top Prospects: 50-46

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, every Monday and Wednesday will be "Top Prospect List Day", as we will release our top 50 list in groups of five. Today, we start the series with a review of prospects 50-46.

50 – Ron Flores, RP

2005 was a breakthrough season for the University of Southern California graduate. After an All-Star season for the Sacramento River Cats in 2004, Flores was left off of the non-roster invitee list for the major league spring training camp and seemed destined for a career of being "this close" to the major leagues. However, Flores refused to get discouraged and he pitched well enough to get consideration for a major league call-up when injuries ravaged the A's bullpen. The lefty got the call on three separate occasions during the season and pitched well for Oakland, allowing only one run in 8.2 innings of work.

In Sacramento, Flores made 52 appearances and posted a 2.39 ERA over 60.1 innings of work. He struck out 66, although his walks jumped up to a career-high 30. He did not walk a batter during his major league appearances. Flores did a good job keeping runners off the bases, allowing only 6.86 hits per nine innings and posting a 1.26 WHIP for the River Cats. Unlike last spring, Flores will be competing for a spot in the A's bullpen during spring training. He has a chance to inherit the lefty specialist role if the A's choose to let Ricardo Rincon walk. Flores will need to show that he can throw strikes and keep lefties off-balance. If he can do that, his major league dream should continue into 2006.

49 – John Baker, C

In contrast to Flores, Baker would like nothing better then to forget the 2005 season. He entered the year at the top of the A's minor league catching depth chart, but he struggled at the plate for most of the season. Hampered early by eye trouble, the Cal alum could never get his stroke on track. After hitting .280 for Midland and .347 in a short stint with Sacramento in 2004, Baker's batting average plummeted to .234. His slugging percentage also fell nearly 100 points to .364. Perhaps indicative of someone who never saw the ball well all season, Baker struck out 90 times while walking only 30. He did manage to drive in 41 runs in 341 at-bats.

The A's are likely to start the 2006 season with the same catching tandem that they had in 2005 (Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse), so Baker will likely be sharing playing time at AAA-Sacramento again, this time likely with good friend Jeremy Brown. Baker is renowned for his work ethic. If he can come to spring training and show that his stroke is back to 2004 form, Baker could still be an option if either Kendall or Melhuse get hurt during the season.

48 – Mark Kiger, SS/2B

Kiger was an important cog in the Midland Rockhounds' 2005 Texas League championship season. The former Florida Gator played in a team-high 131 games and committed only 12 errors while manning the ever-important middle infield positions. He also gave the Rockhounds a tough out at different parts of the line-up, including an extended stint as the team's lead-off hitter. Kiger, in some ways, is similar to another former Gator, A's second baseman Mark Ellis. He is a hard-worker who battles the pitcher in every at-bat and plays well around the bag. He doesn't have all of Ellis' natural baseball instincts nor does he have Ellis' power, but Kiger can hold his own with the bat.

In his final season at Florida, Kiger hit .403 with a 1131 OPS and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. He hit .281 in his first full professional season at A-Modesto in 2003. In 2004, Kiger spent most of the season at AA with Midland. His 2004 and 2005 Midland campaigns were almost identical, as he hit .262/.367/.356 in 2004 and .267/.365/.367 in 2005. He has never walked fewer than 68 times in any full professional season and he brings versatility with him to both the field and the batting line-up. Kiger will probably never be a major league starter, but he could draw some interest as a utility infielder in a Mike Gallego-kind of role down the road.

47 – Matt Watson, OF

Watson, like Flores, finally got an extended look at the major league level in 2005. He had a short stint at the big league level in 2003 with the New York Mets, but he received 48 at-bats over two months of big league service time with Oakland in 2005. Watson didn't have much success at the plate during his 48 at-bats, hitting only .188, but his performance at AAA-Sacramento in 2005 was enough to get him noticed. In 113 games for the River Cats, Watson hit a team-leading .315 with 17 homers and 81 RBIs. He also walked 67 times and struck out only 57 times and had a memorable homerun in the AAA All-Star game played at the River Cats' home park, Raley Field.

Watson is limited defensively, so he'll have to earn a major league spot on the strength of his bat. He is a solid contact hitter who has line-drive power to the alleys. Despite being a middle-of-the-order hitter, Watson has decent speed, and he stole 12 bases in 13 attempts for Sacramento this past season. However, his swing is a little long and he struggled with off-speed pitches during his major league stint. If the A's enter spring training with the same set of outfielders they are currently carrying (Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay, Jay Payton and Bobby Kielty), Watson will likely compete with utilityman Freddie Bynum for the fifth outfielder spot.

46 – Steve Stanley, OF

Stanley is an interesting story. Made famous by Michael Lewis in the book Moneyball, the sparkplug lead-off hitter jumped immediately to high-A after signing with the A's in 2002 and was in AA by 2003. However, he struggled in a four month stint with AAA-Sacramento to start the 2004 season and found himself back in AA-Midland for all of the 2005 campaign. After a slow start, Stanley finished the year with a .290 batting average and a .370 on-base percentage. He walked 61 times and struck out only 62 times. He also clubbed a career-high six homeruns (he had four homeruns in his career entering the season) and he drove in a career-high 46 runs.

Stanley is one-part Scott Hatteberg, one-part David Eckstein. He doesn't have a corner outfielder's power, but he doesn't have the traditional speed of a centerfielder like Juan Pierre. What he does have is a tremendous, Hatteberg-like batting eye and an Eckstein-like ability to find a way to get on-base to jumpstart an inning. He is also a tireless worker. Stanley projected as a potential major league lead-off hitter when he was hitting .296 in AA as a 23 year-old. Now that he is about to turn 26 in December, Stanley's chances to earn a starting role in the major leagues is diminishing. However, his batting eye could still make him an asset on a major league bench.

Don't forget to tune in next Monday to find out who we rank as the A's 45-41 top prospects.

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