The Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics set off some fireworks last night with the first big transaction of the 2014 summer trade season. The Cubs sent right-hander Jeff Samardzija and right-hander Jason Hammel to the Athletics in exchange for right-hander Dan Straily and a pair of top prospects, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney. Here's my take on the prospects involved.
Billy McKinney, OF: McKinney was just starting his pro career a year ago, having been drafted in the first round last June from high school in Plano, Texas. Signed for $1,800,000, he hit .326/.387/.437 in short-season ball which helped convince the Athletics to jump him all the way to High-A this year. That's a big jump and he's struggled at times for Stockton in the California League, hitting .241/.330/.400 with 10 homers, 36 walks, and 58 strikeouts in 290 at-bats. That's still respectable for a guy who is more than three years younger than the average California League player.
McKinney is a 6-1, 195 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born August 23, 1994. He does not stand out for his physical tools, but scouts loved him in high school anyway due to his baseball instincts, hitting aptitude, and work ethic. He's played mainly center field at Stockton and held his own, though in high school scouts felt that his speed and arm strength made him a better fit in left field. If he develops as expected with the bat, he should produce above-average on-base percentages and decent power.
Addison Russell, SS: Russell was drafted in the first round in 2012 from high school in Pace, Florida. Signed for $2,625,000, he zipped through rookie ball then performed well in the California League in 2013 at age 19, hitting .275/.377/.508 with 17 homers and 21 steals and proving that he can remain at shortstop. A hamstring injury slowed him to open 2014 but he has recovered and is currently hitting .333/.439/.500 in 13 games for Double-A Midland since coming off the disabled list.
Russell is a 6-1, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born January 23, 1994. Although there were some questions about his glove in high school, he has emerged as a solid defensive shortstop with above-average range, an accurate arm, and greater reliablity than most infielders in his age cohort. There are no longer any doubts about his ability to remain there. That makes him a special prospect since his bat would fit anywhere: he has excellent bat speed, controls the strike zone well, shows power to all fields, and has the speed to swipe 15-20 bases a year. He's a clear Grade A prospect.
MY TAKE: I like this trade from Chicago's perspective. The Cubs are working hard to develop a strong lineup core and the addition of Russell, who is the best or second-best shortstop prospect in baseball, is a coup. They can worry about working out the positional issues in regards to incumbent infield prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara later. With offense at low levels in the major leagues, players who can hit are at a premium. McKinney is a solid prospect as well, and Straily could still rebound. From Oakland's perspective, it's a win-now move which is defensible as long as Samardzija and Hammel perform as expected.