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The accolades keep rolling in for Oakland A’s minor league shortstop Addison Russell.
ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the 20-year-old Florida native as the No. 3 overall prospect in the minors heading into the upcoming season. And while it’s no surprise to see Russell grouped among the elite of any preseason prospect rating, this is the highest Russell has appeared on any list. The only players ranked higher by ESPN are Twins center field prospect Byron Buxton and Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Baseball Prospectus ranks Russell as the No. 7 overall prospect, and he comes in at No. 12 on mlb.com’s list.
The shortstop position is absolutely loaded with blue-chip prospects right now, and the reason Russell shot to the No. 3 spot on ESPN’s list is because Law ranked him ahead of other elite shortstops such as the Astros’ Carlos Correa, the Indians’ Francisco Lindor and the Cubs’ Javier Baez.
“One of the best pure hitters in the minors, Russell is an incredibly gifted player who has a mature approach at the plate and some of the softest hands you'll ever see in the field,” Law wrote. “He has a simple, fluid right-handed swing with some loft through his finish to generate line drives; his bat speed is so good and the contact he makes is so hard that I still see more power in the future for him, 15-20 homers a year, if not more. In the field, he has the hands to be an elite shortstop.”
Law also writes that if the A’s wanted to make Russell their everyday shortstop in 2014, “it wouldn't be that far-fetched an idea.”
Since that last statement is bound to send expectations soaring through the roof, this is where we’ll throw up a stop sign on the hype, or at least a slow-down sign.
Russell, who received his high school diploma just 19 months ago, is likely to start this season at Double-A Midland. Although it’s possible that he crushes Texas League pitching, there are also signs that he might experience growing pains. Russell hit .275 with 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 107 games last season for Single-A Stockton, but he also struck out 116 times. In a three-game promotion to Triple-A Sacramento late in the season, nine of his 13 at-bats resulted in strikeouts.
Those numbers suggest that, at this stage in his career, there’s an effective way to pitch Russell. And as he makes the climb to Double-A, pitchers will be better equipped to exploit that.
This is no knock on Russell – baseball people inside and outside of the A’s organization have praised his approach at the plate, his work ethic and his desire to get better. That speaks volumes, and he’s got the tools for stardom.
But when the hype gets cranking as it is now, it’s important to keep perspective. Russell has just one full professional season under his belt. If he’s to crack the majors this season – specifically, before the September roster expansion – he’ll have to force the A’s hand with his play. They’ll have to be convinced Russell is a better everyday shortstop option than Jed Lowrie -- who could conceivably shift to second base – because there’s no use in bringing Russell to the big leagues to have him watch from the bench.
So consume all the hype, savor it and relish in the fact that the A’s have one of the game’s most coveted young players. Just don’t let it skew your realistic view of the situation.