Drafted out of high school in 2012, Addison Russell is rising faster then the vast majority of his class, whether they signed out of college or as teenagers. He very quickly eased initial fears that he would outgrow shortstop by losing weight and displaying solid range. That of course earned him points in the amorphous “makeup” category. He signed quickly enough to play 55 games in his draft year, setting the stage for his explosive 2013 campaign.
On Opening Day Russell was the youngest player in the High-A level California League. He was not deterred, hitting .275/.377/.508. His .885 OPS blew away the league average of roughly .760. With a .233 ISO he displayed impressive power for a middle infielder while also stealing 21 bases. He was disciplined enough to work walks in 12.1% of plate appearances and post a 0.53 BB/K.
Russell moved on to the Arizona Fall League, hitting .282/.361/.435. The AFL is another offense-friendly environment, but aside from production his game took another step forward. He reduced his strikeout rate and lifted his BB/K to 0.67. At the end of the season, against better competition, he continued to show progress.
MLB.com’s scouting report states Russell “uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact.” The spray charts agree, he put 73 balls in play to right field, 72 to left, and 70 to center. The 16.11% line drive rate is not as encouraging, but seasoned evaluators are likely a better instrument to use than hit data from minor league parks.
The red flag in Russell’s stat profile is his 23.0% strikeout rate. For most players it rises as they ascend towards the majors, and a normal curve would make Russell a whiff machine by the time he gets to Oakland. He was so young relative to his level last year that a high strikeout rate is not a large barrier to success historically. A’s Nation found that age 19 players in High-A with comparable walk rates and ISO generally fare well as major leaguers.
A promotion could be coming sooner rather than later. Russell is a top ten prospect on ESPN’s and Baseball Prospectus’ annual lists. MLB.com ranked him 12th, but in their Pipeline Perspectives series Jonathan Mayo wrote “would anyone really be surprised if we saw Russell in the big leagues by the end of the season?”
There is always danger in overrating one minor league season, particularly an offensive effort in the California League. Brandon Wood is one memorable cautionary tale. Still, the Oliver projections are confident enough to estimate 94 wRC+ if Russell plays this year with the Athletics, and 110 wRC+ in 2016. With only four shortstops exceeding 100 wRC+ Russell’s offensive promise warrants immediate attention. Manny Machado had a 96 wRC+ in his major league debut season and was an instant fantasy factor. Russell has similar offensive upside and runs more. If one accepts that projections systems are getting better and that young breakouts are becoming more common than Russell is a very exciting prospect.