2015 Fantasy Baseball: 30 Prospects In 30 Days — Addison Russell
Many an eyebrow were raised when the Oakland Athletics shipped off Addison Russell for a season and a half of Jeff Samardzija and a few months of Jason Hammel. Russell, the A’s then number one prospect and now the Chicago Cubs’ number two (behind Kris Bryant) offers an impact at a premium defensive position: shortstop.
The freshly turned 21-year-old has raked in every minor league stop where he’s accrued more than 50 plate appearances. Russell’s power developed in 2013 when he blasted 17 home runs in High-A — impressive for a shortstop even in the hitter friend CAL — while also flashing some speed with 21 steals versus just three times being caught. The speed didn’t repeat itself last season but the power did, as Russell hit 15 dingers on the year, with 12 coming against Double-A pitching. A hamstring issue early in the season may have contributed to him only nabbing six bases throughout the year, so look for Russell to perhaps rediscover some extra stolen bases this season.
As the Cubs have Starlin Castro locked under contract (and likely at shortstop) at least until 2019, Russell may find himself getting time at third base if Bryant can’t stick there long-term. Add in Javier Baez and his incredible bat speed, and the Cubs infield gets even more crowded. For now, all that Russell can do is continue to hit, and that comes naturally to him.
Russell appeared in the top-25 of every major prospect list pre-2104. Between Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, Russell’s lowest rating was 14th. This year Keith Law has already ranked Russell as the fourth best prospect in baseball and had high praise for him:
Russell is a true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at short, whether it’s a tough ground ball or a quick transfer on a 4-6-3 double-play turn. His swing did get a little longer in 2014, producing more power but also more ground ball contact, as he would get on top of balls he didn’t square up. Russell always will face questions about his position because he’s not a runner, but his footwork is more than adequate, and he has the hands and arm to be above-average there. Shortstops with the potential to hit .300-plus with double-digit homers are rare commodities — Troy Tulowitzkiwas the only major leaguer to do it in 2014 — which makes Russell’s skill set extremely valuable.
Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs believes in the bat, but less so of the defense:
Scouts like Russell’s actions, hands and footwork and think he stays at short for at least the next 5-7 years, as his arm action could be corrected and he’s shown aptitude thus far in pro ball, but the standard for sticking at shortstop is different with the Cubs. Starlin Castro is entrenched at shortstop and, if Bryant can’t stick at third base, there’s a big hole there that Russell could fit into perfectly.
|2013||Solar Sox (R)||21||97||1||15||5||5||10.3%||15.5%||.153||.329||.282||.361||.435||.368||119|
|2014||Solar Sox (R)||11||50||2||8||10||1||6.0%||26.0%||.152||.226||.196||.260||.348||.284||66|
Outside of an 81 plate appearance span at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Russell hasn’t had any issues with the levels of pitching he’s seen thus far. His strong walk rate on top of his great contact skills make him valuable in classic 5×5 formats, on-base percentage leagues and points leagues. Courtesy of Minor League Splits, it is also clear that Russell doesn’t have any platoon worries.
Given the limited playing time possibilities as well as the fact Russell has all of 13 Triple-A plate appearances, it is no surprise to see a less-than-stellar projection for him. Consider his age relative to his peers, most 21-year-olds are just breaking into full season ball, and Russell’s rise to the top echelon of prospect lists is well warranted.
Between his ability to play shortstop for the next handful of years or even beyond, plus his developing power and batting eye, Russell figures to be an impact player from just about the moment he sets foot on a major league field. Dynasty formats should already be owning him and keeper leagues would be wise to follow suit. For standard re-draft leagues, Russell probably belongs on the waiver wire, at least until his playing time situation clears up. Cubs fans are probably tired of hearing this, but wait until next year. At that point both the team and Russell should be to compete with the big boys.