It’s not as if the left side of Oakland’s infield is in dire straits right now. Since the start of the 2013 season, both Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie have been more than proficient at third base and shortstop. That would make the path a little difficult for any prospect in their organization who plays those positions to get to the Majors. It doesn’t mean a prospect can’t get there anyway.
Addison Russell was drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft (11th pick) by the Oakland A’s and hasn’t stopped progressing since that day.
Russell reported to Rookie ball and progressed quickly through the organization as an 18-year-old, batting .369 over 217 at-bats, and eventually finishing the season in A-ball. In those 217 at-bats, Russell had seven home runs (with ten doubles and nine triples) and 16 stolen bases. He started the 2013 season in Rookie ball again, but was promoted to High-A where he managed a slash line of .275/.377/.508 in 504 plate appearances. His strikeouts increased, but so did his walk rate (over 12-percent) and his ISO (.233 at High-A). Again, Russell showed that power/speed combination with 17 home runs and 21 stolen bases. With those 17 home runs came 29 doubles and 10 triples, another good sign of the power and speed that Russell has shown so far in his young career.
Of course, coming up through the ranks as a young shortstop means that a good defensive game needs to be part of the package as well. While not a standout with his glove, there’s not much reason to think that it will be a liability to the point where it keeps him out of lineups. From Eno Sarris over at Fangraphs:
Russell gets a lot more leeway with his bat if he sticks at short. And critics point to his stocky lower half and powerful frame and think he’ll move off the position. But if that comes to fruition, it shouldn’t be for a while. Russell has the smarts to make the most of his athleticism at the position.
If Russell has the athleticism to maintain a decent range to remain at shortstop, it’s only going to help his case to get the call to the big leagues. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The other part of his defense is his arm. Playing shortstop or third base requires a strong arm and that is something that Russell does not lack. From John Sickels at the Minor League Ball blog from SBNation:
…the thing that stood out to me most defensively was his arm: it is VERY strong, definitely plus and strong enough for third base if need be.
If Russell possesses the athleticism to get to most balls at shortstop, and the arm to play either third or short, this will only help his fantasy value this season. If Russell is proficient at short, it would help manager Bob Melvin keep him in the lineup should Russell get called up this year. With rookies playing a premium position, lackluster defense isn’t acceptable on potential contending teams. Even if Russell isn’t Ozzie Smith at short, he’ll be good enough that it won’t be a reason for his manager to leave him on the bench.
The true block to Russell getting regular time in the Majors is Jed Lowrie. The thing is, Jed Lowrie is a player that almost always gets injured (last year was the first time in his career he cracked 400 at-bats) and Jed Lowrie is a free agent after this season. At the least, Russell seems to have a good shot at being the regular starting shortstop for the start of the 2015 season, getting the call once rosters expand at the end of this year. There’s also the chance that Lowrie just gets hurt (perhaps even traded) this year and Russell gets the full time job earlier than expected.
It seems likely that barring injury, Russell won’t make it to the A’s until September. For those in keeper leagues and dynasties, he’s a name that should already be on someone’s team. For those in re-draft leagues, there’s no reason to have him on a roster until the rosters do expand in September.
What Russell can bring to shortstop is something not a lot of players at that position do in the fantasy game, and that’s give home runs and steals. Even a pessimistic projection of eight home runs over his first full year in the big leagues can still yield 15 stolen bases, something only four shortstops did in 2013. While playing at the O.Co will sap some power out of him, his speed will turn long singles into doubles and wall-ball doubles into triples.
He’s dealing with his own hamstring injury right now so I’m sure the organization will let him get his swings in at Triple-A before any sort of call-up. The bench is already pretty full with guys like Eric Sogard, Nick Punto, and Alberto Callaspo in the mix in the infield.
Once Russell does get the call, though, it will be for good. If there’s ever any news of a Lowrie injury, those in re-draft leagues should be quick to the waiver wire. Even though he’s just 20-years-old, Russell has the tools to be a rare shortstop power/speed threat once he makes his debut.