by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The A’s had a need in the middle infield and there had been speculation from some people that 2012 first round pick Addison Russell could be fast tracked to help fill it. That ultimately didn’t happen, as Russell spent the bulk of 2013 at High-A (outside of 13 late season AB at Triple-A), but could easily be a factor during 2014.
We can’t consider 2013 anything but a success, hitting .275 with 17 HR, 60 RBI, 85 R and 21 SB. He added 29 doubles and 10 triples, showing that the 19-year old has significant extra base power. It’s odd, though, as he actually didn’t hit the ball all that well with a 12.9% line drive rate (league average was 16.0%).
Should we be concerned? No, as the scouting reports tell us a different story. Prior to 2013 Baseball America said:
“When scouts describe Russell, the adjectives that come up the most are “aggressive” and “explosive.” He combines quick hands with tremendous barrel accuracy, enabling him to make consistent hard contact. He hits line drives all over the field with projectable power. It’s more like sneaky power right now, though one club official compares Russell’s home run upside to that of Ian Desmond, who went deep 25 times in 2012. Russell goes to the plate looking to attack the ball.”
While the line drives weren’t really there, he still showed the extra base hits and should continue to develop.
The bigger concern is the strikeouts, which sat at 22.8% last season and could easily continue to grow as he moves up against tougher competition. When you use an aggressive approach, its just something that comes with the territory. It’s obviously not going to completely derail him, though it could limit his potential average (especially until he matures).
Of course, he also walked 12.1% of the time and had a .275 average courtesy of a .337 BABIP (arguably a lucky number based on the line drive rate), so it’s not a complete issue. Just something we need to keep a close eye on.
Baseball America mentioned Ian Desmond in their scouting report, and that could be the perfect comparison. In the Majors last season Desmond hit .280 with 20 HR and 21 SB, while posting a 22.1% strikeout rate.
It’s going to be important that Russell caps that strikeout number, because those numbers are certainly in his wheel house. He also has shown more patience at the plate, albeit at a lower level (Desmond has a career 5.6% walk rate and was at 7.1% at High-A), which is only going to help.
Time will tell if the A’s push Russell all the way to the Majors in 2014, but we’ve seen 20-year olds make the jump numerous times in recent seasons. While he will likely start in the minors, it wouldn’t be surprising if he arrived around mid-year (though it’s possible he doesn’t arrive at all). Regardless, at a position that rarely provides upside in both power and speed, depending on your format he will be well worth rolling the dice on.
Sources – Minor League Central, Baseball America