With the 11th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft the Oakland Athletics selected Pace High School (Fla.) shortstop Addison Russell. Billy Beane and Co. broke from tradition by going for a prep star in 2012. In fact, the selection of Russell marks the first time since 2001 (Jeremy Bonderman) that the A’s have drafted a prep player with their first pick. The timing couldn’t have been better for Beane to mix it up as the A’s held five of the first 75 selections and because Russell is widely regarded as a potential 5-tool prospect with plus (maybe plus-plus) raw power and a plus arm.
On the flip-side there are already rumblings that he won’t be able to stick at shortstop due to that fact that he already has a MLB physique despite being only 18 years old. He may outgrow the position completely by the time he is ready to debut for Oakland. Because of this some scouts speculate he will eventually need to move to third base once he completely fills out, but if that happens both his bat and arm profile as above average at the hot-corner. As for Russell, he has done his best to prove that he has the determination to stay in the middle of the diamond by dropping 20-25 lbs and improving his flexibility and quickness. The A’s will look to keep him at short as long as possible in hopes that he can become one of the increasingly rare power hitting players at the position.
Russell’s calling card will be his bat. Check out this video (power display starts at the 1:30 mark) for visual evidence on that point. He possesses outstanding bat speed and has plus raw power with room to add to more. Standing 6’2 and weighing 210 lbs, the 18 year old has broad shoulders and a strong lower half built for power and decent speed. He compliments his raw power at the plate with soft hands and a very strong throwing arm in the field. His glove work is sound and his range is above average. The only two knocks against him are that he lacks the foot quickness for shortstop and he has a tendency to get too aggressive in the batter’s box gets fooled by quality off-speed pitches. Two things that I believe can be ironed out at the higher levels with professional instruction.
He hit .529 as a sophomore in 2010 and .500 with 10 HR as a junior. In his final season for the Pace Patriots Russell hit .358 with 8 HR and 33 RBI while leading his team to the 6A-State Finals.
If Russell signs with Oakland and forgoes his commitment to Auburn, his future at the next level will most likely be as an everyday third baseman featuring above average power and strong defense. This should be welcome news to A’s fan’s who have been suffering through a revolving door at the hot corner since the decline and eventual departure of All-Star Eric Chavez.
However, I do hope that the A’s leave Russell at shortstop as long as possible and exhaust every opportunity to see if he can prove scouts wrong and stick at the position as his bat would play up even more. As for where he will start once he signs, I think the A’s will and should take a conservative approach and send him to Class-A Short Season Vermont. The goal there will be to let him find success both at the plate and in the field to keep his confidence high. I would then look to promote him to Class-A Burlington, once he proves too much for that league, and let him finish the 2012 season there. If he does well in Class-A he might get consideration to start 2013 at Class-A Advanced Modesto where his power should be on full display. Personally, I would let him stay in Modesto for 2013 and have him start 2014 at Double-A Midland where he will more than likely face his stiffest competition and need to refine his plate approach and plate discipline. If all goes well look for him to spend some time in 2015 at Triple-A Sacramento with an opportunity to make a late season debut and have a chance to break camp in 2016 with the big club as the everyday third baseman.
In the end I think the A’s made a great selection and grabbed an elite talent with a very high ceiling. I am glad to see them deviate from a draft strategy that was growing mundane and predictable. Russell has the potential to be great player for a long time and he should give A’s fan’s something to stay excited about. Russell isn’t completely without fleas though as he does need to iron out his plate discipline and prove himself against superior pitching. He also needs to make sure to maintains a high level of dedication to his craft and keep himself in excellent shape if he hopes to stay on the left side of the infield. If he develops, at his peak he could be a middle of the order bat and 25 HR and 100 RBI seasons won’t be rarities in Oakland anymore.