Addison Russell picked up right where he left off on Sunday.
Russell, a 19-year old shortstop from Pensacola, Fla., complained of a jammed right thumb in a July 17 game against Rancho Cucamonga, just three days after representing the Class-A Stockton Ports in the MLB Futures Game in Queens.
The Oakland Athletics’ No.1-ranked prospect missed 10 games because of that ailing thumb, but returned to action to face San Jose and collected three hits in five plate appearances, including his 27th double of the year.
He has 15 hits in his last 10 games, 11 of which are part of a modest six-game hitting streak.
Currently ranked the 48th best prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, Russell is finding a summer groove after struggling to get his swing going in the early months. After batting a combined .213 in 43 April and May games, Russell has improved his batting average to .268, hitting .333 in June and July.
“I’m just getting back to me,” he said. “Trying to get my pitch, basically. Not chasing any balls out of the zone.”
Russell’s strikeout numbers are down, too. After striking out in 32 percent of his April and May at-bats, he’s lowered that average to 29 percent in his hot June and July.
“I’m being more pitch selective,” he said.
Russell bounced around in his first professional season, playing for three different teams before being promoted to High-A Stockton for the 2013 campaign. From Arizona to Vermont to Iowa, Russell was all over the map in 2012.
“It was kind of like a whirlwind, but I just tried to stay as composed as I could be and go about my business the right way,” he said. “It was just a good experience to be pushed around like that to see the different types of pitching. I was glad the A’s did that to me.”
Scouts talk about Russell’s quick first step defensively, with one scout saying, “he gets to balls he shouldn’t get to.”
Russell’s bat looks to be as quick as his first step, and though he isn’t drawing as many walks, he’s simply hitting the ball more, and finding gaps. His 30 June hits included 11 doubles and three triples.
“Things are a ball right now,” he said. “Just got to keep it rolling.”
Q&A with Athletics No.1-ranked prospect Addison Russell
What small, maybe insignificant thing about baseball gives you the most joy?
Just the fact that I’ve worked so hard and my family has put in so much effort to put me in this situation and everything that’s going on in the game, whether it’s bad or good, I just look at it and say I’m blessed to have this opportunity. So I just slow things down when things are going bad and overall baseball just excites me.
What things has your family gone through to help you to be in this situation? What are you most grateful for?
Just them being so supportive. Having a job like this is rare where I am from. A lot of people didn’t think that it would happen. My family just supported me every step of the way.
You’ve heated up here in June and July after having a slow April and May. What things have you been working on that have contributed to your play as of late?
I’m just getting back to me. Trying to get my pitch, basically. Not chasing any balls out of the zone.
When I talk to A’s fans and A’s scouts, they mention your high strikeout totals. How are you working to get those numbers down?
I’m being more pitch selective, just getting my pitch and things will handle themselves.
Talk about playing in Rookie ball last season, playing in front of practically no fans. How much of a difference do great fans here in Stockton mean to you?
It’s awesome. They give us a little bit of confidence when things aren’t going our way. Sometimes they put us down but more than likely they bring us up. The fans are awesome and it’s very exciting.
Playing on three different teams last year, was it hectic being moved around as much as you were?
It was kind of like a whirlwind, but I just tried to stay as composed as I could be and go about my business the right way and it was just a good experience to be pushed around like that to see the different types of pitching. It was a good experience. I was glad the A’s did that to me. Now that I’m actually getting my first full season in things are a ball right now. Just gotta keep it rolling.
In your first full season now, have you seen your emotions and your nerves be at ease? Do you feel yourself in a groove?
Definitely. You get in those grooves where you’re seeing the ball great and playing great defense but also you get into those moments where you feel lost at the plate but it’s a long season and you just have to grind it out and I think things are going to look bright.