Daniel Robertson spent the 2014 season far from the spotlight, toiling away just like all of the prospects in the California League. He nonetheless played a factor in one of the highest profile Major League trades made all season.
When the Oakland A’s shipped star shortstop prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs last July in a deal that netted pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, it was a ringing endorsement for the potential they saw in Robertson, a shortstop they snatched up in the 2012 draft not long after they took Russell with the 11th overall pick.
Now Robertson, 20, is the top prospect in the A’s farm system, a player general manager Billy Beane refers to as the future answer at a critical position.
And who knows? That future might just arrive sooner than expected.
“For the A’s to feel comfortable (making that trade) and think they have something to look forward to with me, it’s a huge honor and blessing,” said Robertson, who hit .310 last season for Single-A Stockton.
He lacks the hype that surrounds Russell, a five-tool talent who was the A’s most highly touted prospect of the past decade. And considering Robertson and Russell were taken in the same draft class and play the same position, you’d think there might have been some natural tension between the two.
Robertson and Russell were roommates during spring training last year and have remained tight since Russell’s trade. They found themselves teammates again over the past month while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, and Robertson again extended an invite to his Phoenix condo. Robertson and Russell shared the place with first baseman Matt Olson, another of the A’s top prospects.
“When we saw each other in the Fall League, the only thing different was he was in a Cubs uniform and not an A’s uniform,” Robertson said.
News of Russell’s trade broke on July 4. And if A’s fans were shocked by the move, imagine the reaction of players in Oakland’s farm system, whose careers can be altered by the comings and goings of their fellow prospects.
Russell was with Double-A Midland at the time. But outfielder Billy McKinney, the A’s No. 2 prospect who also was included in the deal, was a teammate of Robertson’s with Stockton. When McKinney was scratched from the lineup shortly before first pitch of a July 4 game at San Jose, word of the trade quickly spread through the dugout.
“My phone blew up” after the game, Robertson said. And speaking of Russell, he added:
“I was shocked that I just lost a real good buddy that I got drafted with and played with a couple years, and who I looked forward to playing with him down the road in the big leagues. (But) everybody has their own journey. … The whole day was just crazy. Nuts.”
But the trade also cleared out speculation that Robertson would eventually be forced to switch positions if he and Russell continued on the same time frame to the majors.
In its midseason prospect rankings for 2014, Baseball America ranked Robertson as the A’s No. 1 prospect. That publication also predicted the right-handed hitter could blossom into a 20-homer player as his power develops. Robertson hit .310 with 15 homers, 60 RBI and an .873 OPS for Stockton last year. He’s viewed as having sure hands and a strong arm defensively.
A’s special assistant Grady Fuson, whose career has been spent in player development, raves about Robertson’s baseball smarts.
“He continues to impress with his polish and intuition for the game and instincts,” Fuson said. “He’s very close (to being Major-League ready). He takes very competitive at-bats. He’s driving the ball with more authority, and he’s very fundamentally sound defensively.”
Robertson has impressed against strong competition in the Arizona Fall League. Through Tuesday, he was hitting .313 and tied for the team lead with 12 RBI in 19 games for the Solar Sox.
The expected progression would have him starting the upcoming season with Double-A Midland, but let’s remember that the A’s aren’t shy about fast-tracking their top prospects. They tempered expectations regarding Russell’s big league arrival last spring, before he was traded, because they knew how much hype surrounded him.
They could afford to do that because they had veteran Jed Lowrie entrenched at short. But Lowrie is now a free agent, and Oakland is in need of a shortstop for 2015. It’d be a stretch for the A’s to go with Robertson for the upcoming season given he’s never played a full campaign above Single-A, but if he impresses in spring training, he could speed up his timetable.
“As far as instincts, reaction, knowledge of how to play hitters and technique, this guy’s good to go,” Fuson said.
As Robertson’s career unfolds, no doubt he’ll be keeping tabs on his friend Russell. He said the two had fun talking during the Fall League about what it might have been like to play in the same Oakland infield together.
“We compete with each other, we want the best for each other,” Robertson said. “The ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues. He’s with another team, and if he gets there, I’ll be stoked for him. It would have been cool to get up there together, (but there’s) a different plan.”