Well, last week, we brought you an interview with the A’s top pitching prospect on our Top 10 Prospect List – Dan Straily. And this week, we took the opportunity to have a little chat with the organization’s top hitting prospect, shortstop Addison Russell.
The A’s top draft pick in 2012 got off to a phenomenal start last year, posting a slash line of .415/.488/.717 with 6 home runs and 9 stolen bases in just 106 at-bats in the rookie-level Arizona League. Russell was quickly promoted to Vermont in the short-season NY-Penn League, where he put up a .340/.386/.509 slash line. But after just 13 games there, the Florida native was sent packing for Burlington in the Class-A Midwest League, where he hit .310/.369/.448 over the final 16 games of the season. Russell finished the year with a combined slash line of .369/.432/.594 with 10 doubles, 9 triples, 7 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 217 at-bats at three different levels. He didn’t disappoint in the field either, showing nice range and a good arm. And by all accounts, Russell is hard-working, takes direction well and has a great attitude.
The young phenom garnered plenty of attention in the off-season, even making the cover of Baseball America. And having just turned 19 last month, Russell is the youngest player in major league camp this year. Viewed as the A’s shortstop of the future, he’s already become something of a fan favorite amongst the A’s faithful. It looks like Russell could start the season at High-A Stockton in the California League and, if all goes well, the hope is that he could be ready for arrival in Oakland by 2015. As long as he maintains a good attitude, a solid work ethic and a desire to constantly learn and improve, there’s no reason that shouldn’t be a likely scenario for Russell – and a likeable scenario for A’s fans. We took the opportunity to check in with the A’s top prospect at the end of his first week in big league camp, just a day before the A’s first spring training games were set to begin…
AF: Well, you’ve had a chance to be in camp for a week now. So what are your first impressions of big league camp at this point?
AR: It’s fun. It’s definitely a good experience. The guys are really, really nice. It’s pretty cool. I get to see some of the big league guys perform and get to learn from them. So it’s a pretty good experience overall.
AF: Is there anything you’ve seen or experienced so far that’s really opened your eyes?
AR: Yeah, just basically the work ethic. Some people think that the guys who have made it to the big leagues don’t have to work as much. But that’s definitely not true. Every big leaguer I see here and every minor leaguer I see here is working really hard to get better and get to the next level.
AF: Is there anyone in camp who’s been particularly friendly or taken some time with you or taken you under their wing a bit?
AF: And is there anything that you’re particularly focused on this spring?
AR: Yeah, I just want to learn as much as I can while I’m here. I’m just trying to see what the guys are doing to make themselves better, and then see if I can do that. I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak everything up.
AF: You’re a very multi-dimensional player. You can do a lot of things – you can hit, you can play shortstop, you’ve got speed. Is there any particular aspect of the game that you enjoy more than anything else?
AR: Playing shortstop is probably the most fun. For me, playing shortstop, it should always be a good day. Sometimes on those days I struggle at the plate, I look forward to having a good day in the field and just performing on the defensive side of things.
AF: You were primarily a shortstop in high school, but you’d played other positions too. When the A’s drafted you, did they initially say anything to you about keeping you at shortstop?
AR: I don’t recall any of that. But they drafted me as a shortstop, and I’ve been playing shortstop. I haven’t really experienced any other position here in the A’s organization yet.
AF: So I guess you’ve been pretty happy to be out there at shortstop everyday then.
AF: Once you got drafted last year and started to play, what were your first impressions playing pro ball for the first time?
AR: There’s a lot more speed in the game. There’s a lot more thinking. It’s a lot more about mental ability and being able to keep yourself composed whatever situation you’re in.
AF: Well, you obviously had a great year and were very successful in your first season. But was there anything in particular that was a challenge for you last year?
AR: Just getting adjusted. I was never really in one spot for a long time. So making that adjustment of moving from one spot to another and then also being able to perform the next day. Being able to meet all the guys and meet all the managers going through the minor league system. So that was probably the biggest thing I had to do.
AF: Things have changed quite a bit for you in the span of a year. You’re in major league training camp right now. But what were you doing at this time last year?
AR: Just getting ready to graduate, planning for prom and all that stuff.
AF: It seemed like you got an awful lot of hype and attention this off-season. That must have been nice for your family to see anyway. I imagine your family’s been very happy about the way your baseball career’s gotten going.
AR: Yes, sir. My mom and dad were probably the most excited but, at the same time, sad because their 18-year-old kid was just off on his own now. But they were happy for me and they’ve always been my biggest supporters.
AF: Are there any interests or hobbies that you have outside of baseball when you have a little free time?
AR: I definitely like to shoot my bow. I have a whole bunch of targets. Other than that, I guess just watching Duck Dynasty episodes and Prison Break episodes. But I’m just looking for some off-season hobbies now.
AF: Well I’m sure you’ll be pretty busy from now through September anyway.
AF: So were there any of your fellow draftees you got to be particularly tight with last year?
AR: Oh yeah, for sure – me, Matt Olson and Daniel Robertson were pretty much inseparable during the season until we got moved through the system. They’re actually coming out here March 10th, and Daniel has a condo set up for me and Matt to come stay with him. So it’s going to be fun.
AF: So the top three picks are sticking together then?
AR: Yeah, definitely!
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