Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 45-41

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 Tuesday and Thursday will be "Top Prospect List Day," as we will release our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with prospects 45-41.

45. Jason Ray, P:
An elbow injury shelved Ray for much of the year.
Ray missed much of the season with elbow soreness, limiting his appearance total to eight relief outings with the Stockton Ports. The 2005 eighth round pick out of Azusa Pacific made the transition from reliever to starter in 2006, but was back to being a reliever in 2007 before he got hurt. The New Mexico native struck out 14 during his brief 10.2 inning stint with Stockton this year and he had a 2.53 ERA.

Ray was dominant as a starter in Low-A Kane County in 2006, striking out 68 in 65.2 innings and going 6-1. However, he struggled during the second half of the season in 2006 after a promotion to High-A Stockton. Ray had a 6.81 ERA in seven starts with the Ports. He improved greatly as a reliever, posting a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings for Stockton to close out the season.

Ray's arsenal is probably best suited for the bullpen. He is built similarly to the A's Rich Harden, in that he is under 6'0'', but has a muscular build. Ray has a plus-fastball, which he throws in the mid-90s with movement. His secondary pitches are only average, however, and he has a high-effort delivery, which may have contributed to his elbow problems in 2007. He has a curveball and a change-up that can be effective, but he is inconsistent with his control of both. Ray's control has been an issue throughout his pro career. In 2007, he walked nine in 10.2 innings and for his career, he is averaging more than five walks per nine innings. His strikeout totals have been excellent throughout his career (10 strikeouts per nine innings).

Assuming that his elbow is sound next season, Ray's biggest challenge will be throwing strikes more consistently. No organization values strike-throwers more than the A's do, so if he can't harness his stuff, Ray could stall within the A's system. If he can throw more strikes, Ray should move quickly as a late-inning reliever.

44. Myron Leslie, OF/IF/DH:
Leslie missed nearly a month with a knee injury.
Leslie has made steady, but gradual progress through the A's system since being draft by Oakland in 2004. The switch-hitter has advanced one level every season since signing as a pro and has put up solid numbers at every stop. The 2007 season was pretty much more of the same for Leslie, who hit a solid .288 with a .386 OBP in 108 games for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds in his first season at the Double-A level.

Leslie was fairly consistent for the Rockhounds in 2007, posting OPSs of 811 or higher in every month except for June, when he was struggling through a knee injury that ultimately cost him most of the month of July. He did an excellent job of getting on-base, finishing first on the team in OBP among players who had at least 250 at-bats with Midland. Where his season was disappointing was in the power category. After reaching double-digits in homeruns in each of his first two full pro seasons, Leslie managed only five homers and a .404 SLG.

Defensively, Leslie made a smooth transition from third baseman to outfielder in 2007. He started his pro career as a third baseman, but the A's began to try him in different positions during the second half of the 2006 season. Leslie showed that he could handle the everyday corner outfield duties this year, and he also played some first base and held his own at that position.

If Leslie can rediscover his power stroke next season, he could be a valuable bench player in the major leagues. He can play multiple defensive positions (in addition to third, first and the outfield, Leslie was a shortstop in college), he is a switch-hitter and he has a very patient approach at the plate.

Leslie stands at 6'3'' and he has long legs. At times, he can appear a bit stiff at the plate, but he does a good job repeating his swing from both sides of the plate. He has below-average foot speed, so he will be limited to the corner outfield positions. Leslie has a good arm, which has proved more accurate from the outfield than it was from third base, and good hands. He doesn't always look that athletic when he is out on the field because of his long-legged frame, but he gets to a lot of balls that he looks like he wouldn't get to. With his versatility, Leslie should have a chance at sticking on the Sacramento River Cats' roster next season.

43. Shane Keough, OF:
Keough is still a work-in-progress.
According to GoogleAnalytics, the number one referral term to this site isn't "Oakland A's," "Billy Beane" or "Daric Barton." Instead, it is "Shane Keough." Right now, that situation has a lot more to do with Keough's "second career" as one of the stars of the Bravo! reality TV show "The Real Housewives of Orange County" than it does with his baseball skills. However, that could change next season as Keough seems poised to start translating his solid baseball tools into good numbers on the field.

Keough was selected by the A's as a draft-and-follow pick in 2005 and he was signed in 2006 after he competed for one season at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona. Keough missed all of the 2006 short-season with a back injury and was only cleared to start playing baseball again at the start of extended spring training. He was assigned to short-season Vancouver, where he appeared in 54 games in his first taste of pro baseball. Keough struggled miserably for the first half of his stay with the Canadians, batting under .200 for the first 30 games. However, he picked up the pace in the final 20 games of the season, batting .253 with a 725 OPS. Keough continued that positive progression during the A's Instructional League, where he had a solid camp.

Despite his mediocre overall numbers with the C's this season, the A's believe that Keough will improve dramatically as he gets more experience. Keough, who comes from a baseball family (his father is former A's pitcher and scout Matt Keough and his grandfather is former major league outfielder Marty Keough), didn't play very much high school baseball and had only one season of collegiate ball before signing with the A's. "I think [for Keough] it is just a matter of getting the repetitions and being out there," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman told OaklandClubhouse.com this off-season. "The talent is there. I just think he's just a little bit behind because he got a little bit of an opportunity at the JC level, but prior to that, he hadn't played much."

Keough, who turned 21 in mid-September, has five-tool potential. He has above-average speed, although he is still learning how to use it (he had 15 stolen bases for the C's despite not getting on-base all that much, but he was caught eight times). Keough has a line-drive swing from both sides of the plate. In the field, he has an average arm, but good range in center, although he is still working on getting proper routes to the ball. Keough, who is 6'3'', has a very projectable frame and he should add more power as he fills out.

Should Keough carry over the progress that he made at instructs into spring training, he should have a shot at playing for a full-season affiliate for the first time. He will play all of next season as a 21-year-old.

42. Tom Everidge, 1B:
Everidge joined the River Cats for the PCL and Triple-A Championship games, but didn't play.
Everidge repeated at High-A Stockton in 2007 despite hitting 20 homers and driving-in 83 runs for the Ports in 2006. He got off to a very rough start at the plate in 2007, and he was batting under .220 as late as July 23. However, he picked up the pace considerably during the second half of the season and he finished the year on a very strong note. Despite spending the final two weeks of the season in Double-A, Everidge still managed to finish the year as the California League's homerun champion with 26 homers.

For the season, Everidge finished with a very respectable line of .266/.357/.469 in 134 games between Stockton and Midland. He established career-highs in homeruns and in RBIs (94). He also demonstrated that he could hit at the Double-A level, even if in only a short stint, as he batted .361 in 36 at-bats with the Rockhounds. Everidge's final season totals are particularly impressive when one considers that he was batting only .211/.324/.398 on July 1.

Everidge has had to deal with a lot of competition at his position since he was selected by the A's in 2004. Early in his career, he shared time with Eddie Kim. This past year, he was stuck behind Daric Barton, Brant Colamarino and Vasili Spanos in the system. However, despite that competition, Everidge has managed to stay on the prospect radar because he is one of the few legitimate power hitters that the A's have in their system.

Everidge, who is a power-lifter and one of the strongest players in the A's system, generally employs an old-fashioned slugger's approach at the plate. He usually waits for his pitch to drive and then doesn't get cheated when he gets it. This approach was getting him in trouble early in the season, as he was swinging at too many pitches that he thought he could drive and he was often getting himself out at the plate. He changed his approach mid-season to be more selective and more balanced and that resulted in much better numbers for Everidge during the second half of the season.

It is likely that Everidge will begin the 2008 season at Double-A Midland, where he could make some noise in the Rockhounds' home ballpark, which has been well-suited to right-handed hitters over the years. He will turn 25 in April, so he will by no means be a young prospect even though it will be his first extended look at Double-A. Defensively, Everidge is average at best. He has worked hard on his defense, but he still doesn't have great footwork around the bag and he sometimes has trouble with the short-hops. He will have to continue to improve at first to move past Double-A.

41. Nick Blasi, OF:
Blasi had a break-through season.
Blasi had a dream season in 2007, coming out of nowhere to become a well-known name among A's fans. The season didn't start out well for Blasi, who was forced to repeat at High-A Stockton at the start of the season despite the fact that he hit .309 with an 848 OPS in 59 games for the Ports in 2006. Blasi didn't get off to a great start with the Ports in 2007, batting only .239 with a 746 OPS in 28 games at the beginning of the year.

Blasi's fortunes changed dramatically in early May when he was called-up to Triple-A Sacramento to fill-in temporarily for some injured players. He wasn't expected to be with the River Cats long, but when Antonio Perez went down with a knee injury, Sacramento suddenly was in need of an everyday outfielder and Blasi stepped-up. In 92 at-bats in May, Blasi hit .348 with an 832 OPS for the River Cats. After that, he found himself as a regular outfielder for much of the rest of the season for Sacramento. His time with the River Cats was interrupted briefly in early August when was sent down to Double-A Midland after some of the River Cats' injured players came back. Blasi hit .393 in seven games for the Rockhounds and was sent back to Sacramento for good at that point.

It was in the playoffs that Blasi really turned some heads. Batting lead-off for Sacramento throughout the playoffs, Blasi batted .457 for the River Cats in eight games. He was named playoff MVP for his efforts in helping Sacramento win the PCL title. Blasi, a 12th round pick in 2004, has seen his status within the A's organization change dramatically with his efforts in 2007. Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi told OaklandClubhouse.com during the season that Blasi "has certainly raised his stock in the eyes of the organization with his performance and that is just really the definition of taking advantage of an opportunity."

In a lot of ways, Blasi has a similar game to that of current A's centerfielder Mark Kotsay. Blasi, like Kotsay, is aggressive at the plate and derives a decent amount of his OBP from his BA. Blasi doesn't have blazing speed, but he is an above-average runner who can steal a good number of bases and cover a good amount of ground out in centerfield. Blasi doesn't have Kotsay's throwing arm, however, as his is only average, although accurate.

To take the next step, Blasi will have to first prove that his 2007 performance was not a fluke. Ideally, he would also add a little more patience to his game or at least cut down on the strikeouts, which were high last season for a lead-off hitter (128 in 124 games). Blasi has experience at all three outfield positions and he can run, which could make him a possibility as a fourth outfielder in the major leagues at some point soon. He will be 26 throughout the 2008 regular season.

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