By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
In four years at Pace High School, just outside of Pensacola, Florida, Addison Russell hit a cool .460 with 37 home runs. Living on the Alabama border, it only made sense that the Auburn Tigers would end up extending a scholarship offer to Russell. And at the time, the 6’0” 195 pound shortstop had full intentions of going to school. The oldest of 4 siblings and the owner of a soft-spoken, humble personality, it made sense that even a talent this large could use a few years of seasoning in the SEC.
This was all before Billy Beane made young Addison his first round selection in the 2012 Draft. For years, Beane has avoided high school players like the plague, deeming an 18-year-old simply too much of a gamble to invest millions in. The last time Beane has selected a high schooler in the first round was 2001 when the A’s took Jeremy Bonderman 26th overall. Before that, you have to date back to 1996 when Eric Chavez was picked in the first round out of high school.
Not only was Beane forced out of his comfort zone by picking someone so young, so early, Billy also had to negotiate with super-agent Scott Boras in order to sign Russell. 2.6 million dollars later, Russell, and his seemingly infinite upside, was property of Oakland.
While Big League scouts have most often compared Russell to current Detroit Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta, A’s fans could also comfortably compare Russell to the beloved former Oakland Athletic, Miguel Tejada. Blessed with a sturdy, compact build, to go along with exceptional bat speed, foot speed and arm strength, Russell possesses everyting one would need to be a breakout Major League star.
Peralta and Tejada, both eventual steroid offenders, possess(ed) the type of five-tool talent that is so coveted in young position players. By all accounts, Russell has all five tools in his quiver, and to the extent that he is the best prospect the A’s have had in their farm system in recent memory.
In Russell’s first season in the minors last year, the 19-year-old started at shortstop for the Single-A Stockton Ports of the California League. After a slow start, Russell finished the season with 17 home runs, 10 triples, 21 stolen bases and a .275 average. The stat line was good enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year in the Cal League, as well as a trip to the All-Star game in New York City to participate in the Futures Game. By year’s end, Russell was on the field with the AAA Sacramento River Cats getting his first taste of professional playoff baseball.
As Russell turns 20 on January 23rd, he heads into his second year of spring training scheduled to start the year playing for the A’s Double-A affiliate in Midland, Texas. There, while he continues to accumulate invaluable professional at-bats, A’s fans will keep a close eye on their prized possession down on the farm.
“At the minimum he’ll be at the Double-A level (in 2014),” A’s general manager Billy Beane recently told CSN Bay Area. “A kid with that kind of talent, once you get to that level, anything can happen from there.”
“He’ll have the opportunity (this spring) in major league camp to assert himself before he gets to the minor leagues,” continued Billy Owens, A's director of player personnel. “There’s no timetable. People always want to make predictions, but I think his play on the field will dictate predictions.
As you may recall, Oakland's 2011 first round pick was Sonny Gray out of Vanderbilt. And we all know how that panned out. The rookie turned in a masterful Game 2 performance in last year’s Playoffs, throwing eight scoreless innings and earning himself the starter’s role for the subsequent pivotal Game 5. Granted, Gray was 23 when he took center stage for the A’s, but it is still in the realm of possibility that Beane and manager Bob Melvin would decide to bring up Russell to play shortstop for the A’s by the middle of the summer. Jed Lowrie has proven to be a step slow as a Major League shortstop. And moving Lowrie to second to make room for Russell could turn out wonderfully, assuming Russell continues his rapid development.
Coming off back-to-back playoff seasons, one couldn’t blame Billy Beane for keeping things status-quo. But, when you consider how competitive the AL West has become (most recently with Robinson Cano coming to Seattle) change is constantly necessary for the A’s to stay ahead of their deep pocket competitors. Expect part of that change to come in the form of a once-in-a-decade shortstop, by the name of Addison Russell.
"Addison is a 19-year-old with so much upside, not only talent-wise but his work ethic. His tools are all there," Bill Richardson, Russell's former Manager, explains to MLB.com. "Shortstop is such a premium. You get a good shortstop, and when you have that guy, it makes things a lot easier on your club. He might be one of the most talented players in this league. He knows what he wants, and there is no doubt in my mind he will make it. How soon is what it is."