Ocean County’s Lasko Turns Pro On Diamond

Former Jackson Memorial High School standout Ryan Lasko competes for Team USA. (Photo courtesy Evan Glaser)

  Ryan Lasko has become a professional athlete.

  The former Jackson Memorial High School and Rutgers University standout has signed a $1.7 million contract to play for the Oakland A’s. He was selected 41st overall as an outfielder by Oakland on the initial day of the 2023 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The pick was slotted at a $2,094,900 signing bonus.

  He was the second selection in the second round. He was ranked the No. 89 prospect in the grab bag by mlb.com. He owns a 60-grade throwing arm on a 20-80 scale on mlb.com. He’s a 6-foot, 190-pounder. 

  “We love the athleticism,” Oakland general manager David Forst told mlb.com’s Martin Gallegos. “Middle-of-the-diamond player who just got better every year. Plus runner, plus outfield defense. Talk about highlights on defense. You can look up some of the plays he made crashing into the wall in center field. A guy that we think is on the ups and really helps the athleticism in our system. I’m excited to see him play in person.”    

  Lasko was the second player chosen by the A’s in the first two rounds. His selection was announced during the All-Star break by former major-league star Raul Ibanez at Lumen Field in Seattle. The three-day grab bag consisted of 614 players chosen in 20 rounds.     

  Lasko put up gaudy statistics at Rutgers University where he was a three-year starter.

Ryan Lasko registers an out for Rutgers University. (Photo courtesy Mark Kuhlmann)

  The criminal justice major batted a team-high .332 in 2023 as a junior. Among his hits were 11 home runs, three triples and 18 doubles. He drove in 50 runs, scored 60 runs, slugged .581 and put up a .428 on-base percentage. He drew 37 walks and whiffed 34 times. He sped to 18 stolen bases. He was hit by seven pitches. He grounded into six double plays, lofted seven sacrifice flies and laid down one sacrifice bunt. He appeared in and started 56 games.

  The righty-swinging Lasko stroked his 200th career hit and became the first player in program history with three straight seasons with 10-plus home runs. He ripped 32 extra base hits en route to 73 overall.    

  In leading the Scarlet Knights to a single-season program record 44 wins in 2022, Lasko batted .349 and slugged 16 home runs, two triples and 24 doubles. He posted a .643 slugging percentage and a .431 on-base percentage. He stole 18 bases and scored 81 runs. He drew 30 walks and was hit by nine pitches. He whiffed 43 times. He put down three sacrifice bunts. He appeared in and started 58 games. He grounded into seven double plays. He led the Big Ten in hits (90) and runs scored. He tied for the Big Ten lead in home runs.

  In 2021, Lasko batted .231 and hit 11 home runs and five doubles. He drove in 30 runs and scored 28 runs. He slugged .474 and posted a .339 on-base percentage. He drew 22 walks and struck out 43 times. He was hit by four pitches. He grounded into six double plays. He hit one sacrifice fly and dropped down one sacrifice bunt. He stole four bases. He appeared in 42 games and started 40.

  Lasko ranks in the top 10 in program history in career homers (38, third), career runs batted in (135, tied for 10th), career total bases (372, tied for sixth), single-season total bases (166 in 2022, second), single-season runs scored (81 in 2022, third), career runs scored (169, ninth), single-season hits (90 in 2022, eighth), career doubles (47, tied for ninth) and single-season homers (16 in 2022, tied for third).

  “Ryan is an excellent player who continues to improve,” Rutgers coach Steve Owens said. “Congratulations to Ryan for his high draft selection by Oakland! He is a tremendous player with elite defensive skills in center field that are game changing at every level.”

  With Lasko in the lineup, the Scarlet Knights won a total of 77 games during the past two years.

Ex-Jackson Memorial High School standout Ryan Lasko displays a potent bat for Rutgers University. (Photo courtesy Mark Kuhlmann)

  “He loves the game and plays hard every single day to help his team win,” Owens told the website. “We wish him the very best as he starts his professional career. There is no doubt that we will be framing his jersey soon enough and adding it to the wall of Rutgers players who have made it to the big leagues.”     

  Lasko is the third-highest MLB draftee in program history, joining third baseman Todd Frazier, selected 34th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, and pitcher Bobby Brownlie, chosen 21st in the first round in 2002 by the Chicago Cubs.

  Lasko is the first player in program history named to the All-Big Ten first team twice (2022 and 2023). He tied the program’s single-season doubles record with 24 in 2022. He set the program’s single-season at-bats record with 258 in 2022.

  Through three seasons, he batted .314, hit 38 home runs, drove in 135 runs, posted a .988 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and scored 169 runs. He hit 47 doubles and five triples. He put up a .580 slugging percentage and a .408 on-base percentage. He drew 89 walks and whiffed 120 times. He grounded into 19 double plays. He lofted 10 sacrifice flies and laid down five sacrifice bunts. He stole 35 bases.

  The righty-throwing Lasko fielded .983, turning in 407 putouts and adding nine assists. He made seven errors. He earned 19 awards as a member of the Scarlet Knights.

  “Rutgers University baseball has given me everything,” Lasko tweeted. “I’ve had the chance to play for the best coaches, who gave me countless hours of instruction and support. Without them, I couldn’t be the person or player I am today. I tried to do things the right way and I had so much fun doing it.”

Ryan Lasko (fourth from right) enjoys his first travel team, the Jackson Red Dogs. (Photo courtesy Evan Glaser)

  Lasko earned a berth on the 26-man Team USA Collegiate National Team. It represented the nation in the Netherlands in 2022. The Team USA training camp is reserved for the top non-draft eligible college players with 48-50 athletes receiving an invitation each year. Again, he’s in good company. Brownlee (2001) and Frazier (2006) are the Scarlet Knights’ other players who made the team.       

  Lasko spent last summer with the Brewster Whitecaps (Mass.) of the Cape Cod Baseball League, which utilizes wooden bats and has produced numerous major-league players. Major-league and minor-league teams use wooden bats. Lasko has spent most of his career swinging non-wooden bats.

  He hit 239 (27-for-113) through 34 regular-season games in 2022. He hit two triples, scored 16 runs and drove in five runs. He drew 13 walks, whiffed 30 times and stole 13 bases. He batted .348 (8-for-23)  for third on the team through six games in the playoffs. He hit four doubles, drove in two runs, struck out six times, scored two runs and made one error.         

  Lasko started for Jackson during his sophomore and junior seasons. His 2020 senior campaign was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. He helped his team to the championship game of the Last Dance World Series during the summer of 2020.

  He was one of the top players in the Shore Conference as a junior, batting .380. He belted seven homers and eight doubles. He plated 33 runs and scored 24 runs. He raced to 14 stolen bases. He was undrafted after his senior year as the grab bag was reduced to five rounds because of the pandemic.

  With Lasko in the lineup, the Jaguars won NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV and Shore Conference Class A South titles in 2018. They captured Class A South in 2019.

  “Pro scouts began looking at Ryan at the college level,” said then-Jackson coach Frank Malta, now the East Brunswick High School athletics director. “In high school, he was not a draft guy per se, but he was a great player, great enough to earn a scholarship.”

  Malta said there was never a fly ball that Lasko could not catch in the outfield.

  “He was a highlight reel in center field,” Malta said. “He made fly balls as easy as a comebacker to the pitcher. We let guys hit it as far as they could to center field. He is a major-league outfielder right now. He is different in the way he gets a path to the ball. He is a draft guy as he does things you don’t normally see.

  “We got used to his plays. Other guys said, ‘Who the heck is this kid?’ We took his plays for granted. You better hit it halfway up a tree if you don’t want him to catch it. That’s how we felt about him.”

  Lasko is not afraid to bang into walls in his pursuit of fly balls. One video shown in conjunction with Lasko’s selection shows the ex-Jaguar crashing into a wall, making a leaping catch and robbing a hitter of extra bases.

  “He is fearless,” Malta said. “He was always that way even as a kid in the Jackson Little League. He is a competitor.”

  Malta said Lasko owns a strong throwing arm.

  “His arm is excellent,” Malta said. “He gets good carry on the ball. It’s another reason he is a professional player. He is a five-tool player (hit, hit for power, run, throw and field). He embodies those tools in all that he does. He has a plus, plus arm.”

  Malta said Lasko often hit leadoff for the Jaguars.

  “I saw him improve each year,” Malta said. “He can hit almost anywhere in the order. He is a George Springer type of player (Springer is an outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays).”

  Malta sees a bright future for his protege.

  “I look for him to hit his strides as a pro,” Malta said. “It is adjustment upon adjustment and adjustment upon adjustment in the pros. That is what it takes to make it in major league baseball. Ryan is smart enough to do it and now he has the opportunity to do it.

  Malta said Lasko was a pleasure to coach.

  “He is a great kid,” Malta said. “People are so happy for him. He is a high character kid. His teachers loved him. He always did the right thing in the classroom and in the hallways. He was a very good student. I see him as the total package – a guy you want your younger guys to emulate. He was a great teammate. He always wanted to see the other guys do well.”

  Lasko is dedicated to his craft.

  “He always worked,” Malta said. “He never took a day off. He never took his foot off the gas. He was in our weight room at 5:30 in the morning each day. He went to bed early so that he could get up early.”

 Lasko owns a well-rounded personality.

  “Ryan is all business,” Malta said, “but he also finds the time to have a laugh and just enjoy it. As serious as he was, he still enjoyed himself and his teammates. He played with his high school teammates since they were nine and 10 years old. It was a fun experience to coach that whole crew of guys.”

Ryan Lasko (left) celebrates his game-winning home run with Jackson Red Dogs teammate Matthew Glaser. Lasko led the A’s to the Jackson Little League Minor League title. (Photo courtesy Evan Glaser)

  Another member of the Ryan Lasko Fan Club is Evan Glaser. He coached Lasko for two seasons in the Jackson Little League. Lasko played center field and pitched on Jackson’s 2015 state championship team which lost in the Eastern Regional championship game to Redland, Pa., in Bristol, Ct. Jackson played in two prime time games on ESPN. Redland won the American Little League World Series title in 2015. One of Lasko’s and Glaser’s teams was the A’s. He also guided Lasko at the travel team and academy levels. One of the travel teams was the Jackson Red Dogs founded by Steve Slusak.  

  “My man!” Glaser exclaimed. “Since Ryan was seven and eight years old, he always had a unique passion for baseball. He is extremely coachable, always engaging. He plays hard. He always leaves it all on the field. If you have nine or 10 guys like Ryan on the field, you are going to win a lot of ball games.”

  Glaser admires Lasko’s style of play.

  “He has baseball instincts,” Glaser said. “He has speed. He works counts. He hits for home runs. He takes extra bases. He’s the flashiest outfielder you will ever see. The amount of ground he covers … diving plays. Throws behind runners and catches them sleeping. He shortened ball games for us because of his ability to catch people off guard.”

  Glaser said he is happy that Lasko was drafted.

  “When his name was called, I felt pride and happiness for him,” Glaser said. “It was gratifying. I almost felt like my son was drafted. I spoke to Ryan for about 20-25 minutes after he was drafted. He said he felt so gratified for the work his coaches and others put into him. Ryan is the most humble person you will ever meet. He is attentive. He gives everyone his time. He encourages his fellow teammates. He is always positive. We could be down by five runs with one out to play with and he is still positive. His folks raised a great guy. Let me say that.

  “When they feel they are that good, some athletes have a chip on their shoulder and feel entitled. Not Ryan. You would never know he was a second-round pick. He worked his tail off. He got out of it what he put into it. Ryan considers me his mentor. I am truly blessed to have coached Ryan. I am happy for him. This is just the beginning. There is a lot more work to be done.”

  Lasko’s parents are Patricia and James Lasko. He has one brother, Dan, and one sister, Emily.                                                        

  Because Oakland finds itself experiencing numerous issues, Lasko could make his major-league debut with the Las Vegas A’s. The lease at the Oakland Coliseum will expire at the end of the 2024 season and the team hopes to be in a new ballpark as early as 2027. The A’s could potentially play their home games in 2025 and 2026 in Las Vegas’ minor-league ballpark similar to how the Toronto Blue Jays played in Buffalo in 2020 and in most of 2021.

Ex-Jackson Memorial High School star Ryan Lasko with his lifelong teammates. From left to right are Austin Parikh, Lasko, Matthew Glaser and Matt Salenko. (Photo courtesy Evan Glaser)

  Lasko is the first ex-conference player chosen on the first day of the draft since Barnegat’s Jay Groome and former Jackson Memorial player Matt Thaiss were selected at 12 and 16, respectively, in the first round in 2016. Now a Los Angeles Angels catcher, Thaiss played three seasons at the University of Virginia, helping the Cavaliers win the College World Series in 2015. Malta coached Thaiss at Jackson.

   Chosen 12th overall in the first round by the Boston Red Sox in 2016, Groome is a pitcher at the Triple-A level in the San Diego Padres’ organization. Former Jackson Memorial first baseman Marc Fink was selected in the 14th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Ex-Jackson Memorial assistant coach J.M. Gold, who starred on the mound at Toms River North, was chosen 13th overall in the first round by Milwaukee in 1998. He was the initial pitcher selected.

  NOTES: Lasko could not be reached for comment by jerseyshoreonline.com and the Jackson Times. The season salary for players in the complex (instructional) leagues is $19,800. The season salary for players in the Low A leagues is $26,000. The season salary for players in the High A leagues is $27,300. The season salary for players in the Double A leagues is $30,250. The season salary for players in the Triple A leagues is $35,800. Scarletknights.com, Baseball America and SoftballNation on the Banks contributed to this report.