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PHOENIX – As he sat at a table eating breakfast Wednesday, Addison Russell looked just like any other young prospect trying to fit into the Oakland A’s clubhouse.
Of course, he’s not just any prospect. He knows that. The A’s know that. And anyone who has watched the highly touted shortstop knows it.
Russell, picked by ESPN as the No. 3 overall prospect in the major leagues, will be one of the main attractions Thursday at Papago Park Baseball Complex when the A’s hold their first full-squad workout of 2014.
Just ask manager Bob Melvin, who was questioned about who he was most eager to see in action Thursday.
“I think it’s always exciting to see the progression of a guy like Addison Russell,” Melvin said. “Last (spring), it was designed to kind of get his feet wet and ease him in, where this year he’s gonna play some innings and get some at-bats.”
Russell, Oakland’s top draft pick (11th overall) in 2012, went 4 for 16 in six games last spring in his first exposure to the bigs. He was just eight months removed from Pace High School (Fla.) at the time.
He proceeded to impress scouts inside and outside the A’s organization throughout the 2013 season at Single-A Stockton, hitting .275 with 17 homers, 60 RBI and 56 extra-base hits in 107 games. Not only did Russell, now 20, show signs of being a power-hitting shortstop, he also impressed with the glove. That’s no small thing because, at the time he was drafted, many observers felt a move to third base eventually would be in order.
“I love Russell,” said a major league scout who has watched him in the minors. “He’s the whole package, really, a five-tool guy playing a premium position. He’s gonna hit for average and power. I think he can stay at shortstop. He’s the whole package for me. I think he’s on the fast track.”
How fast? That’s the big question.
Melvin was asked if he could rule out Russell as a candidate for the Opening Night roster.
“I mean, you never say never, depending on whether you have a rash of injuries,” the manager said. “But we don’t want to rush somebody like that even if he had an eye-opening spring. I think there’s some classifications he needs to go through, the process. And we are deep at that position with (Nick) Punto here now” to back up starting shortstop Jed Lowrie.
Indications are Russell will begin the regular season with Double-A Midland, and the A’s brain trust places heavy emphasis on that level. If a guy is manhandling Double-A pitching, the A’s feel he’s close to major-league ready.
The soft-spoken Russell is Oakland’s most hyped prospect in several years, but he’s trying to keep an even keel.
“I really do try to block out the hype,” he said. “Being on social media, it’s everywhere. It’s really hard to avoid. You just kind of have to be humble about it. Just go about your business the same way and everything will take care of itself.”
Russell said he tries to learn from center fielder Coco Crisp and Lowrie in particular.
“They’re definitely veterans, they’ve been around the game a long time,” he said. “Just the little things they do can make the difference.”
Russell, listed at 6-feet and 195 pounds, added that he doesn’t have a timetable for cracking the majors. There is room for improvement -- his 116 strikeouts in 107 games at Stockton, for example. But A’s officials are happy with the way Russell adjusted to breaking pitches last season after a slow start.
“I like the fact that I made an adjustment halfway through the year,” he said. “This year I just want to work on cutting down my strikeouts, taking a few more walks, seeing a lot more pitches.”