Overview-Russell was the third round selection of the Dodgers in the 2008 draft, and he made an immediate impact as a professional, sharing the Midwest League's Most Valuable Player Award with fellow prospect Dee Gordon. Despite this, there's skepticism abound about Russell's eventual potential at the major league level. For all the positive tools that he possesses, his continuing inability to make contact leaves Russell with a lot to prove going into 2010.
Hitting-Russell has the strength to hit the ball out of any park, but perhaps the most impressive part about his power is that he can use it to all fields. The natural lift in his swing is created by dipping his left shoulder, and while that helps him put the ball in the air frequently, it also keeps his bat head out of the contact zone for extended periods of time. He has tried to rectify the uppercutting problem in his swing, but there hasn't been a significant improvement yet.
On the positive side of things, Russell's short stride keeps his timing simple, which helps minimize the negative effects of his all or nothing swing. He also stays behind the ball remarkably well, letting it travel deep into the zone before unleashing one of his mighty swings. Speaking of that, his power is no joke, as Russell has excellent hip rotation that generates his good bat speed.
Unfortunately, there are other concerns besides his swing plane. For instance, when his timing is off, he really goes through some extended struggles. As a result, he seems to get anxious at the plate, frequently lunging after pitches. I also have to wonder if advanced pitchers will respect his power as much as their college and lower minor counterparts. Russell has a patient approach for sure, but his pitch recognition isn't very good, so I still have to wonder if his walks will drop once advanced hurlers figure out ways to attack him. It's something to monitor closely as he faces more mature pitchers.
Fielding-His defense is what sets him apart from other all or nothing type sluggers. Russell has the skills to play center in a pinch, but his future is definitely in right. He's a rangy athlete with a strong arm that has solid accuracy to the plate.
Baserunning-I thought he would fill out and slow down a bit, but that hasn't happened and his speed remains solid. Despite his stolen base total in 2009, I don't expect him to be a huge threat in the majors.
Mental-Seemed willing to work on his flaws, even if the attempts didn't seem to fix much in the end.
Health-No significant injury history that i'm aware of.
Performance-Russell has dominated his competition as a professional, posting an OPS of .900 in 2008 and .916 in 2009. In both those years, his power was in full effect, posting an ISO of .256 and .272, respectively. Furthermore, his 2009 walk rate (12.8%) reflects a patient hitter, and he has even been successful on 92.3% (24/26) of his stolen base attempts as a pro.
However, when accounting for context, his accomplishments don't seem as impressive. Russell is an experienced college hitter, but the Dodgers are taking baby steps with him, as he was 22 in Rookie-ball and 23 in A-ball. Given that he is quite old for those leagues, it should be expected that he do well. Another thing that deserves significant concern is his disturbing strikeout rate (37.4%). It's a huge red flag that has absolutely has the potential to implode his prospects of being a productive major leaguer if it does not improve.
Other-His frame is long and lean, so he does have room for more strength, but he hasn't filled out much.
Projection-I compared him to Russell Branyan last year, and I still think that's about his upside with the bat. If he can hit like Branyan does, he'll be a good player because of his above average defense in right. However, I would keep in mind that Branyan was already destroying AA at 22, so Russell has a lot of work to do. Despite Russell's power/patience/defense upside, it would not surprise me at all to see him eventually end up as a power option at pinch hitter off the bench.
There's zero reason to start Russell in A-ball, but the Dodgers have been extremely slow promoting him, so anything is possible. I think he needs to take a shot at AA to see whether he sinks or swims against advanced pitching, as it could make or break his status as a good prospect. In an ideal world, he would compete for a regular job in 2011, but I see him taking a bit longer to adjust to better pitching.
As Chad/Kensai said, Russell is a unique prospect. He has nearly every tool you look for in a star, power, speed, defense, but also struck out 180 times in A ball... as a 23 year old. It would seem 2010 is the year he should be sent to AA to see if he can succeed or if he will fail against stronger and more advanced competition.
While I do not believe he is in major league spring training camp, I personally would like to see him get a couple of sessions with Don Mattingly. Don is known for being able to help free swingers become players who can make decent contact. He did that with Matt Kemp, and to a lesser extent, Andre Ethier last year, and it payed off very well. If Russell would be able to get a couple of sessions with Donnie, I think it could do wonders.