By the end of last season, Addison Russell looked like one of the steals of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. After the A's made him the 11th-overall pick, Russell played solid defense at shortstop and hit .369 in 55 games as he raced through three levels, reaching Class A Burlington for the season's final weeks.
The A's were so impressed that they sent Russell, their No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, to start his first full professional season at Class A Advanced Stockton. Just 19 years old, Russell was the youngest player in the California League on Opening Day.
Russell struggled with the aggressive assignment early on. Through 23 games, he was hitting .161 with 34 strikeouts, only six extra-base hits and a .573 OPS. But he has made strides lately, hitting .308 over his past nine games to raise his average by 45 points and his OPS to 751. In that nine-game stretch, he has nine extra-base hits, including four of his five home runs, plus four multi-hit games, matching his total in his first 23 games.
And Russell's manager, Webster Garrison, has been impressed by his young shortstop.
"It hasn't been a great first half for him numbers-wise," Garrison said. "But he's playing good baseball. He's playing a good shortstop and hitting the ball hard.
"He's eager to learn and has high upside."
Garrison said Russell has at times appeared frustrated by his hitting. But he has managed to avoid taking his offensive struggles with him to shortstop. Garrison has also been impressed with Russell's drive to improve.
"He's eager to learn," Garrison said. "He wants to get better in the whole game -- where to play guys, preparing before games.
"Once he starts swinging the bat a little better, he's definitely going to stand out."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.