I couldn’t imagine being 19 years old and playing minor league baseball. Six hour bus rides with guys older then you. Roach coach motels. Cities like Bakersfield and Stockton, CA aren’t exactly the ones you think about when dreaming of playing professional baseball.
Oakland A’s prospect Addison Russell has a lot going for him. He was drafted in the 1st round, #11 overall, and received a $2.625 million signing bonus in 2012. He will be given every opportunity to succeed in professional baseball and has a leg up on other A’s prospects. Russell though still has to grind the professional latter, which in 2013 landed him in Stockton for a season in the California League.
Stockton has a very nice ballpark compared to most A+ teams, and it is well known for being a “hitters yard”. Balls fly out of Stockton that in most MLB parks would be routine outs. There are other minor league parks that are even more hitter friendly, but Stockton holds it’s own as being a batters paradise. The infield dirt is near pristine and very rarely will you see a bad hop on a ball. If anything the infield plays fast in Stockton, although I’ve found that the grass in the outfield can be a little mushy which can slow down balls heading for a gap.
Russell played about 100 minor league games in 2012 before starting the 2013 season in Stockton. He lit up Rookie and A- ball which created a lot of buzz for his trading cards as well as his potential as a player. I’ve seen Russell play all season in Stockton and here is what I’ve seen, heard and think.
Perspective: Russell is playing the 2013 season at 19 years old which is young for the California League. Many of the pitchers he is facing are at least 3-5 years older. Those pitchers also have more experience and can get 19 year old kids out. Russell grew up in Florida and Stockton is a long way from home. Stockton is well known for being a tough town where crime is high and entertainment is low. His teammates on the Stockton Ports are all older then he is. He might be considered somewhat an outsider because he is younger and also comes with a much higher profile. Russell is one of the few players on the Ports who has a chance to play in the big leagues.
Personal: Very mature impression for a guy who’s 19. He acts more “grown up” then some of his older teammates. While Russell gives off a quiet/reserved demeanor, I get the sense he notices everything going on around him. He signs autographs before every game. Will sign multiple autographs even for people who ask him everyday to sign. Freely signs on the sweet spot of baseballs. I don’t get autographs at games. Personally I find it a little odd to be asking a 19 year old kid for his autograph. That’s just me. I’ve joked to friends that Russell “passes out free $20 bills” because many “dealers” get him to do what seems like a signing session dang near every game.
His girlfriend is hot. On the 1-10 scale she is an easy 8.5-9 with upside. While it would seem obvious that a player like Russell would do well in the female category, keep in mind I’ve seen other minor league players who have NO CHANCE of ever playing in the MLB pull girls who might be 9.5’s. That’s one thing to keep in mind about playing in the minor leagues. These guys get girls of MLB quality. A lot of young players in the minors might think they’ve “made it” already because of this. If I had girls as hot as some of these minor league guys do, throwing themselves at me at age 19-22…… my ego would have exploded.
Hitting & Running: Has a lightning quick bat. Watch enough games and it becomes clear that the kid can flick his wrists through a ball at an elite level for the Cal League. Can spray balls to all fields with gap power. Sometimes is overly aggressive, especially on the first pitch and will come out of his shoes.
Some project Russell as a .300 hitter with 25 HR’s while playing SS; which would set him up for a huge payday down the road. He does have a little power because of his athletic build and quick bat. I’d have him cut down on the swing some and become a slap/gap hitter and maybe run into 12 HR’s. But that won’t be a huge payday for him or sell his baseball cards. I guess I could see him being a .300 25 HR type guy, but that is probably a reach. If he does become an All-Star type of player it will be several years from now, maybe even a decade. Personally, I don’t see him as an All-Star type player. I can see him becoming a very good player that could have a nice long career.
Russell is a solid runner which bodes well for him. He is not blazing fast but can steal a base and leg out a triple. Has an athletic type body which fits for his SS profile. Will never be a huge threat to steal bases, and he will eventually lose some speed as he gets older.
Defense at SS: For 19 years old he’s held his own at SS. He is not a world class defensive SS, but very few players are. Russell has decent range and seems to move well but he is not mistake free out there. His throwing arm is good, and is slightly above average for a SS. Russell does seem to have to exert a lot of effort to get off a good throw which does cost him a hair trigger in getting rid of the ball. There are times when throwing on the run has caused him problems. The first year I watched minor league ball I saw current Giants SS Brandon Crawford play a lot. Russell is not on the same level as Crawford was in 2010. Crawford has a stronger arm and is much smoother around the bag. Russell is a quality SS, but is not a lock to stick at that position for his entire career.
Tidbits: Russell comes across as a humble, quality young man. Rarely do you see him upset or show emotion on the field. During one particular game Russell was in the on deck circle when the batter at the plate struck out to end the inning. Some fans in the stands yelled to the batter that he shouldn’t have struck out. Russell shot a glare into the stands and held the glare while walking down the dugout steps. It was a small moment and I might have been the only one who noticed. It was a stroke of fire in Russell that I hadn’t seen before. As Russell gets older I can see him being a quiet leader that other players look up to. I’ve talked to Russell a few times, just short conversations about a situation in a game or about the city of Stockton. He is a young guy who could easily succeed in some other aspect of life. Comes across as older, and I have to remind myself that he is 19 years old. His walk up music usually has a groovy R&B style to it and is one of the best on the team (catcher Phil Pohl gets the top spot as he comes out to Pearl Jam).
Baseball Cards: His cards can be worth decent money and some sell for hundreds of dollars. I would sell his cards in the next year or so if I had any good ones. While he will probably be a big league player, he most likely won’t have the career of an All-Star. Russell freely signs autographs and will probably be featured in many, many sets in the future. He will continue to struggle at times as he moves up the minor league levels. For the better part of his young career he will be playing against older players and only the true cream of the crop can dominate in that situation. Russell should end up being a good player but collectors spending big on his cards may experience a drop in price in the coming years.