Addison Russell, The Lone Athletic On The Top 100 Prospects List
Russell, the A’s 20-year-old minor league shortstop and 2012 first-round draft pick, is currently the No. 12 prospect in the game according to MLB.com after hitting .269/.369/.495 with 17 homers and 21 steals in 2013. The top 20 showing helps ease the pain of Oakland going just 1 for 100 in the newest set of MLB.com rankings.
If a MLB player goes 1 for 100 he’s probably desperate for a hit of any kind and hoping for dear life that he doesn’t get placed on waivers or demoted to the minor leagues. There’s absolutely nothing for a player to get excited about when he hits a paltry .010.
However, when you’re a MLB front office going 1 for 100 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list can only have a silver lining when the one player you have ranked is as promising as Russell, your club has won back to back division titles, and your roster is stocked with young talent. On paper, the A’s are once again poised to be one of the best teams in baseball this season and with Russell on the horizon the near future looks bright too.
Ideally, the A’s would have at least one or two more players on MLB.com’s top prospect list. They would if they hadn’t traded A.J. Cole to the Washington Nationals (he’s currently No. 69) and Michael Choice to the Texas Rangers (No. 72). General manager Billy Beane has been in win now mode for a couple of years and the aggressive pursuit of postseason glory has come at the price of some good young players.
It’s hard to argue with winning the AL West two years in a row, but the fact that the A’s have had largely disappointing returns on their first-round draft picks is frustrating to say the least. Recent first round picks Choice, Grant Green, Jemile Weeks and Corey Brown have all been traded over the past few years for relatively modest returns and the franchise hasn’t drafted and developed a notable hitter in the first round since Nick Swisher way back in 2002.
When you look at the success the small budget A’s have recently enjoyed despite producing so little homegrown talent it’s a minor miracle that they’ve been able to rise above some lackluster drafts. The team’s current depth chart only features four players drafted and developed by the A’s (Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sean Doolittle). This says a lot about Oakland’s struggle to develop their own draft choices, but it also shows how adept Beane has been at finding value in bargain bin free agents and other teams’ young trade chips in some of his recent deals.
It’s hard to believe, and a little depressing to consider, that Russell is the most promising position player the A’s have drafted and developed in more than ten years. The current MLB.com Top 100 Prospects scouting report says Russell is, “one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball” and he’s held in high regard by some other notable prospect rankings.
WHERE RUSSELL RANKS
Scout.com has Russell at No. 4, Keith Law has him at No. 5, Baseball Prospectus has Russell as their No. 7 prospect and John Sickels had him at No. 15 in his end of season assessment. Baseball America doesn’t have an overall list of top prospects available at the moment, but the publication has Russell ranked as the A’s top prospect and the organization’s best hitter, athlete and defensive infielder.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Here’s quick sampling of what scouts and writers are saying about Russell:
Fangraphs: According to Marc Hulet, one scout said Russell “Has a chance to be an upper level hitter with power … there is nothing this kid doesn’t do.”
MLB.com: Jonathan Mayo says, “It’s difficult not to be excited about his offensive profile. Future 20-20 outputs don’t seem out of the question at all.”
Gammons Daily: A scout Peter Gammons spoke to compares Russell to Barry Larkin and says, “His gap power and athletic instincts should put him right there in one slot below (Red Sox shortstop prospect Xander) Bogaerts.”
John Sickels: In his end of season look at ranked prospects he noted that Russell, “Is clearly one of the top infield prospects in the minors.”
Glowing reviews all around and there’s every indication that Russell has the potential to be Oakland’s best homegrown shortstop since Miguel Tejada. Of course, that’s tempered by the fact that all Russell has to do is outperform mediocre former A’s shortstops Bobby Crosby and Cliff Pennington. A’s fans have to hope that Russell ends up being closer to Tejada than Crosby by the time his career in Oakland is over.
With current A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie scheduled to be a free agent after this season the door is wide open for Russell at least get a cup of coffee in 2014 before being given a chance to be the everyday shortstop in 2015.
Overall, it looks like we may be entering a golden age of shortstops with veterans such as Troy Tulowitzki in their prime, young players such as Andrelton Simmons already thriving in the majors and a crop of amazing youngsters led by Javier Baez on their way up.
The A’s may have gotten only one player on MLB.com’s list of top 100 prospects this year, but he’s definitely someone to get excited about. Hopefully, Russell’s steady rise up the prospect lists will mark the beginning of a new wave of homegrown position players in Oakland because going more than ten years between producing a promising young hitter is a dangerous way for a small budget team like the A’s to do business.