Russell learning to wait for his pitch early in career
Shortstop prospect, 19, swinging hot bat at Fall League after stellar first full season
MESA, Ariz. -- Considered a can't-miss prospect, shortstop Addison Russell proved scouts right in his first full season in 2013. Russell finished with double-digit totals in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases, and you could count on two hands the number of Minor Leaguers who did that. There were eight.
With 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 homers and 21 stolen bases built almost solely at High A Stockton, Russell was in select company. The A's top-ranked prospect preferred, however, to look at the season in a different light, one of growth and discovery as he locked onto his best approach at the plate.
"I didn't start off as good as I wanted to. I tried to do some things that weren't me at the plate, just trying to hit the ball," Russell said. "I was trying to muscle things a little bit, trying to force some things. I learned I have to let it come to me and take advantage. That's what I did in the second half. It wasn't anything mechanical. It was all mental. I told myself to settle down, and things took care of themselves."
It is a lesson all players learn at some point, but seldom does it seem to take as little time to implement as it did for Russell, who signed for a $2,625,000 bonus as Oakland's first-round pick in 2012 out of Pace High School in Florida.
"Especially us young guys. We have to learn how not to put everything on our shoulders," Russell said. "It is a long year. You have to just relax. Things will take care of themselves. Your ability will take over. Try not to produce. Just try to do what you are supposed to do and stay grounded."
Russell is continuing his strong year for Mesa of the Arizona Fall League, where he had a .307/.369/.467 slash line in 18 games to help the Solar Sox to first place in the East Division of the six-team made-for-prospects league.
While others may have been feeling the weight of the long season in November, Russell was closing strong. He took an eight-game hitting streak into the final week of the season, with 14 hits in his last 34 at-bats. He had seven doubles, a triple, a homer and four stolen bases, tied for third in the league in doubles.
With understanding has come plate discipline, and Russell has cut down his strikeouts dramatically. After 125 strikeouts in 442 at-bats -- 107 games with Stockton, three with Triple-A Sacramento -- in the summer, Russell has brought his ratio down to 5:1 with 13 strikeouts in 75 at-bats.
"I am trying to pick out the best pitch for me to hit hard," he said. "I'm just looking for my pitch. If I get it, I am trying to swing at it. If it is not there, I am going to try to watch it go by."
Russell, who turns 20 on Jan. 23, seems certain to take the next step to Double-A Midland next season, but it is nothing he dwells on.
"I just want to take what I'm learning here and put it into effect next year," Russell said. "Take my ABs, take my walks, see some good pitches. It's going to be a long year, just like this year. So just try not to press and be me and have fun playing the game."
Bill Richardson, Russell's manager in Mesa, sees a high ceiling.
"His aptitude is off the charts," Richardson said. "He makes a lot of things look easy. Then you give him something [to work on], and he puts it into play, and he looks like he's been doing it for 10 years. That is his foundation. That's his fabric."
Richardson managed in the Angels' system last year and spent the previous six years in the Texas organization, where Elvis Andrus took over as the starting shortstop at 20 and stabilized the position. He sees Russell as the same kind of player.
"[Addison is] a 19-year-old with so much upside, not only talent-wise but his work ethic. His tools are all there," Richardson said. "Shortstop is such a premium. You get a good shortstop, [and] when you have that guy, it makes things a lot easier on your club. He's been very solid. He might be one of the most talented players in this league. He knows what he wants, and there is no doubt in my mind he will make it. How soon is what it is."
A's hitters in the AFL
• Acquired in the deal that sent Kurt Suzuki to Washington last season, David Freitas had a three-hit game on Halloween but has not had a lot of opportunity to work, a common issue with Fall League catchers because teams carry three backstops. Freitas was hitting .222 with a homer and four RBIs in nine games. He had 10 homers, 30 RBIs and 31 walks in 90 games combined at Double-A and Triple-A this summer, and his patient approach is a plus.
• First baseman Max Muncy, who is ranked the organization's No. 16 prospect, had a breakout season at High A and Double-A over the summer, going .273/.381/.476 with 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. A fifth-round pick in the 2012 Draft out of Baylor, Muncy has not sustained that pace in the Fall League, hitting .196 with three RBIs in 14 games. He had been hot recently, however, with five hits in his last 17 at-bats.
A's pitchers in the AFL
• Counting the Fall League as another step up, Ryan Dull has pitched at six levels in his 17 months with the A's organization since being selected in the 32nd round of the 2012 Draft out of North Carolina-Asheville. Dull has experienced some growing pains while finishing a long season here, with a 5.40 ERA in nine appearances, but he will enter 2014 with a strong resume after posting a 2.40 ERA with 19 saves combined at Class A Beloit, High A and Double-A. A fastball/changeup guy with command, Dull had 78 strikeouts against nine walks in 60 innings at his three stops in the summer.
• Left-hander Omar Duran came into the Fall League equipped with dominating stuff at times, but he has struggled to locate in Arizona as the A's attempt to determine whether to protect him or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft. Duran, who can hit the mid-90s, was 0-1 with a 4.70 ERA in seven outings, with six walks and four strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. It is a comedown from an enigmatic summer season when he was 3-1 with three saves and a 4.17 ERA at Class A Vermont and High A. Duran, who is 6-foot-3, struck out 91 but walked 43 in 58 1/3 innings.
• After moving to the bullpen for good in 2012, Seth Frankoff took another step forward in the Fall League, giving up two runs and holding opponents to a .143 batting average in 11 appearances. He had 14 strikeouts against only two walks in 10 1/3 innings, building on a nice season at High A, where he was 2-0 with four saves and a 2.78 ERA in 48 appearances. Relying on a cut fastball, Frankoff struck out 93 in 74 1/3 innings at Stockton after being selected in the 27th round out of North Carolina-Wilmington in the 2010 Draft.
• Late-blooming left-handed reliever Jeff Urlaub continued to do what he does best ... throw strikes. Urlaub, who is 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds, was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 10 outings. He had 14 strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings, a pattern that has marked his rise through the Minors after being a 30th-round Draft pick in 2010 out of Grand Canyon University. Urlaub, 26, was 2-2 with one save and a 3.86 ERA at Double-A in the summer. He averaged 1.6 walks per nine innings in four seasons.
Jack Magruder is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.