Russell is serious about remaining a shortstop, so much so that he shed pounds between high school and the Draft. His lighter weight is credited with adding increased agility and better conditioning to his overall game.
Now at 6-foot and 195 pounds, the 19-year-old Russell is playing shortstop in the Athletics' organization. Because of his well-developed lower body, some scouts and executives feel Russell will outgrow the position with late growth spurts. I disagree. I feel once his development is complete, Russell will be the A's shortstop for years to come.
My first look at Russell came in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. In his first pro season, Russell had tremendous success adjusting to a new environment, playing every day in the heat of the desert and establishing himself as a dominant prospect. Russell hit .369 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs during last year's AFL. He went to the plate 244 times, garnering 80 hits that included 10 doubles and nine triples.
In several evaluations, Russell was selected as the top prospect in a league that included Cubs outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, Indians shortstop Dorssys Paulino, Rangers third-base prospect Joey Gallo and other celebrated young players.
In addition to his loud bat, Russell showed a capability to play solid defense at shortstop. He brings raw power and above-average speed to the middle of the infield.
Russell has very quick hands, using his bat speed and good plate coverage to reach the entire strike zone and the outside of the plate with ease. While I've seen him take pitches to the opposite field, in the games I have scouted, the right-handed-hitting Russell appears more comfortable using his pull side as the primary component of his offense.
I project hitting for average to be Russell's second most dominant tool, behind only his raw power. He hits hard line drives and gets sufficient loft on the ball to reach the seats.
Russell may scuffle a bit recognizing and avoiding swinging at breaking balls that now may appear beyond his comfort zone. Ultimately, he'll adjust to hitting sliders and curveballs, as that part of his offense might be at the center of his development. Russell will feast on fastballs until he becomes more comfortable with secondary pitches.
Defensively, Russell has good first-step quickness and enough range to stick at short. He has outstanding reflexes that serve him well. Russell's arm strength is above average. Again, as long as he doesn't outgrow the position physically, he can succeed as a shortstop. But make no mistake, Russell would make a very good power-hitting third baseman, if that's his ultimate destination.
A scout friend compares Russell to Jhonny Peralta. He has a similar projectable frame. But I think Russell will have more power.
Currently hitting .279 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs at Class A Advanced Stockton, Russell has shown success in each of his two Minor League seasons. I am confident that trend will continue.