He is one of hundreds of players trying to shine in the Arizona Fall League, but shortstop Addison Russell holds singular status in the Oakland A’s farm system.
The team’s undisputed top prospect, Russell has the potential to become the A’s first homegrown star-quality position player since third baseman Eric Chavez broke in way back in 1998.
Others have made splashes. Shortstop Bobby Crosby won a Rookie of the Year award but never developed into a consistent force. First baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher had a 35-homer season but was hardly a dominant player by the time he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes? He was an international free agent and didn’t come up through the system.
But in Russell, the A’s have a potential five-tool standout rated as the No. 17 overall major league prospect by MLB.com this past season. He has good size (6 feet, 195 pounds) and is said to have terrific athleticism with the chance to be that rare commodity: A power-hitting shortstop.
“I’ve been with the Oakland A’s for 16 years, and I’m as excited about Addison Russell as a prospect as anybody we’ve had here,” said Billy Owens, the A’s director of player personnel.
Russell is still three months shy of his 20th birthday, but it’s not out of the question he could reach the majors sometime in the upcoming season.
A first-round pick in 2012 out of Pace High School in Florida, the right-handed hitting Russell batted .275 with 17 homers and 60 RBI with high Single-A Stockton in 2013. He earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Sacramento to aid the River Cats’ playoff push, though he appeared in just three games.
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“At the minimum he’ll be at the Double-A level (in 2014),” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “A kid with that kind of talent, once you get to that level, anything can happen from there.” Russell also has impressed evaluators outside the organization.
“What I’ve seen I’ve liked,” said a major league scout who requested anonymity. “It looks like he stays at shortstop. It looks like he can hit. He’s going to hit somewhere in the top six spots in the lineup, and how many shortstops can you say that about?”
But some evidence suggests it’s wise to pump the breaks on the hype.
Russell had 125 strikeouts in 110 combined games this past season. That included nine strikeouts in his 13 Triple-A at-bats, so don’t be surprised if there’s some offensive growing pains as he continues progressing through the minors.
Russell has just one full professional season under his belt, but this is his second year participating in the Arizona Fall League. Each major league team can send seven prospects to the AFL, which gives players a chance to compete against top prospects from other teams.
In eight games, Russell was hitting .242 with one homer and one RBI, though it’s notable he had struck out just three times in 33 at-bats.
As excited as Owens is about Russell, he is careful not to put an expectation on when the shortstop will arrive in Oakland.
“He’ll have the opportunity (this spring) in major league camp to assert himself before he gets to the minor leagues,” Owens said. “There’s no timetable. People always want to make predictions, but I think his play on the field will dictate predictions.”
Here’s a glance at other A’s prospects playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League:
RHP Ryan Dull – It makes sense that the A’s sent four relievers to the AFL considering they probably don’t want to pile more innings on their starters after a long regular season. Dull, 24, was a 32nd round pick in 2012 out of University of North Carolina-Ashville. He began the season with low Single-A Beloit but wound up finishing at Double-A Midland. Dull had 78 strikeouts and just nine walks to go with a 2.40 ERA over 45 appearances.
LHP Omar Duran – Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2007, Duran throws hard and can flash a nasty slider, according to Owens. But since entering the A’s farm system in the United States, the 23-year-old lefty has issued a hefty 115 walks in 183 2/3 innings. On the plus side, Duran had 83 strikeouts over 53 innings this past season with Single-A Stockton, a testament to his stuff.
RHP Seth Frankoff – The right-hander is 25 and has never pitched above Single-A. But he possesses a good curve and change-up, which he used to help compile 93 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings for Stockton in 2013.
C David Freitas – Obtained from Washington in the Kurt Suzuki trade of 2012, Freitas split this past season between Midland and Sacramento but hit just .231. Owens praises Freitas’ smarts behind the plate. The A’s figure to enter the spring with at least three catchers in their major league picture, so the numbers don’t favor the 24-year-old Freitas for 2014. Then again, was Stephen Vogt on anyone’s radar when last season began?
1B Max Muncy – Besides owning a really fun name, he hit .273 with 25 homers and 100 RBI in a season split between Stockton and Midland. The 23-year-old Muncy is a stellar defender and has an overall game that reminds Owens of Kevin Millar. “They have similar attributes -- good fielding first basemen that hit line drives, and sometimes those line drives can go over the fence.”
LHP Jeff Urlaub – He is 26 and has yet to pitch above Double-A, but Owens thinks Urlaub could potentially follow the career path of a recent A’s bullpen lefty – Craig Breslow. The change-up is Urlaub’s best pitch. “Being left-handed, it gives you a few more chances,” Owens said.