Minor League Prospect Note: Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
When I saw that the Oakland Athletics had promoted 2012 first-round pick to the Burlington Bees in the Low-A Midwest League, I decided to take a quick trip to get a look at him in person.
It is rare to see a high school player reach Low-A two months after being drafted, but I can understand why the Athletics moved him up. He hit .415/.488/.717 with 14 walks and 23 strikeouts, 9-for-10 in steals, in 26 games in the Arizona Rookie League, then hit .340/.386/.509 with four walks and 13 strikeouts in 53 at-bats for Vermont in the New York-Penn League. He wasn't being truly challenged by the competition yet, so I can understand the attraction of giving him a last-second bump up to Low-A: get his feet wet at the level and set him up for success in 2013.
Russell is listed at 6-0, 185 pounds, right-handed hitter and thrower, born January 23, 1994. He looks taller and bigger than that; I'd say he's more like 6-1, 195, perhaps even 6-2. He'd gotten somewhat bulky in high school, although this was muscle, not fat. Scouts were thinking he'd have to move to third base, but Russell put the kibosh on that by losing some weight and working hard to improve his flexibility entering the 2012 draft season, convincing Oakland (and some other teams) that he had a good shot to stick at shortstop.
In the two games I saw, the thing that stood out most defensively was his arm: it is VERY strong, definitely plus and strong enough for third base if need be. It is also inaccurate; he made two wild throws. I don't think this is a serious issue; it didn't look like a flaw with his throwing mechanics. He just looked overexcited. I mean overexcited in a good way: he was playing with positive intensity, not with skittish nervousness, if that makes any sense. I think the throwing will settle down.
I wish I had gotten a better read on his range, but there was only one play that challenged him to his left. He got to the ball but made a wild throw on it. There wasn't anything challenging to his right, and he handled routine plays without trouble, although most shortstops would. Based on what I saw here, I'd rate his range as average, with an above-average throwing arm. I'd expect his throwing accuracy and error rates to improve with time and experience.
My read is that he can stick at shortstop, although I wouldn't expect him to be Gold Glover. That's just based on two games.
Average range is just fine if you hit, and Russell looks like he can hit. As you should expect with an 18-year-old in full-season ball, he's erratic. He didn't have much trouble with fastballs. He seemed to read them well, and caught up with them just fine. Breaking pitches were another story: he had problems with sliders, and some serious issues with changeups.
I mentioned this to a scout friend today, who noted that Russell probably didn't see too many pro-quality changeups in high school or the Arizona Rookie League. Having problems against them isn't unusual. He's got plenty of bat speed, his swing looks sound mechanically, and he made a good-faith effort to work the strike zone. The basics are all here.
Russell showed a nice turn of speed in today's game, legging out a triple on a ball he pulled down the left field line. He hustles, and (unlike many players in A-ball in late August), he looks like he's having a good time on the field. He also laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the second game, something many major leaguers can't do.
Overall, I like him. Although he didn't immediately scream "future superstar" to me, the tools were obvious, he flashed some skills, he's just 18, and he was clearly the most talented player on the field. He needs some development time, so don't expect Russell to turn into Mike Trout, but he has a bright future.