2009 Breakout Candidate: Shane Keough, OF

Shane Keough is one of the most famous members of the Oakland A's farm system, but thus far, that fame has come from his off-the-field activities. Will this be the year that Keough becomes known for his play on the field?

Vital Statistics
Name: Shane Keough
DOB: 9/11/86
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 200
B/T: B/R

Even if the show "The Real Housewives of Orange County" hadn't aired, many Oakland A's fans would have had some familiarity with Shane Keough's name when he was selected in the 36th round of the 2005 draft by the A's. After all, Keough's father, Matt, had been a starting pitcher with the A's in the early 1980s and had also served as a scout for the team for a number of years. However, "The Real Housewives of Orange County" not only aired, but was quite popular. The show focuses on Shane's mother, but he plays a prominent role in a number of the episodes and has become a celebrity because of that show.

The A's, of course, didn't draft Keough and then sign him as a draft-and-follow in 2006 because he had been on TV. Oakland took Keough because they saw a raw talent who they thought might develop into a major league player. Keough certainly has the bloodlines to be a major league baseball player. In addition to his father, Keough's grandfather (Marty) and great-uncle (Joe) played in the big leagues.

When the A's signed Keough in 2006, he was a raw talent with relatively little baseball playing experience compared to many US-educated players. Keough missed time in high school, only played one season at community college and then was sidelined for the entire 2006 short-season with a back injury. Given his relative lack of experience, the A's have moved Keough slowly through the system. He spent his first year in minor league baseball in extended spring training and then with the short-season Vancouver Canadians. Keough looked the part of a raw player with Vancouver in 2007, batting only .214 with an anemic .299 OBP.

Keough performed well at the A's Instructional League in the fall of 2007 and Oakland promoted him to Low-A Kane County for the 2008 season. He didn't always have consistent playing time with the Cougars in 2008, but he did manage to get into 104 games and collect 340 at-bats. He improved over his Vancouver numbers by hitting .244 with a .306 OBP; however, those numbers still left quite a bit of room for improvement. Keough had trouble making consistent contact with Kane County, striking out 103 times, or nearly once every three at-bats.

Often when we make these predictions that a player is ready to have a breakout season, we point to a positive stat trend that might be an indicator that a player's perceived performance from the previous season is somewhat deceiving. In Keough's case, he actually performed better early in the 2008 season, hitting .276 with a .357 OBP before the break and .206 with a .241 OBP after the break. He did have some positive statistics, however. A switch-hitter, Keough was much more effective from his natural right-side, hitting .303 with a 765 OPS in 89 at-bats. He hit only .223 with a 550 OPS as a left-handed hitter. Keough also performed much better during the day, hitting .333 with an 840 OPS in 102 at-bats.

We aren't hedging our prediction that Keough will have a breakthrough year on his stat-line, however. We are basing it more on what we saw of him in spring training last week. Always a natural athlete, Keough appears to have refined some of that athleticism into usable baseball skills. During the time we saw him play, he hit for power, ran extremely well (he was clocked by one scout as running from home to first in 4.07 seconds) and executed a throw home to nail a runner perfectly. His swing also looked more balanced from both sides of the plate than it did last year.

In many ways, this is a make-or-break season for Keough. Now 22 and with two full seasons of professional baseball under his belt, Keough can no longer use the "raw" label as a crutch. He will need to start producing numbers to continue to move up the ladder in the A's chain. Keough is currently working out with the High-A Stockton squad in spring training, but he may have to start the season back at Kane County depending on how the A's outfield depth chart lays out at the end of the spring.

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