Russell, Burns impressing at A's camp

Russell, Burns impressing at A's camp
March 6, 2014, 10:45 pm
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Addison Russell notched his first extra-base hits of the spring with a double and triple Thursday. (USATSI)

With more than a week’s worth of exhibition games in the books, it’s time to check in on how some of the Oakland A’s young prospects are doing.

The first round of roster cuts should come soon, which means some of these guys will be heading to minor league camp. But the six players below are viewed as potential building blocks for the future, so they’re being evaluated closely by the front office and coaching staff.

Here’s an early progress report:

SS Addison Russell – The most high-profile prospect in camp is getting quality playing time, as A’s manager Bob Melvin promised he would. Russell has appeared in nine games so far, hitting .263 (5 for 19) with two RBI and four strikeouts. He notched a double and triple in Thursday’s 8-8 tie against the Arizona Diamondbacks, his first extra-base hits of the spring.

Russell said he feels more relaxed around big leaguers in his second major league spring training. With so much speculation swirling about when the shortstop will reach the majors, Melvin took him aside early in camp and told him to relax and not put too much pressure on himself. The A’s aren’t looking for him to make the 25-man roster. After a full season with Single-A Stockton in 2013, Russell seems likely to start this season with Double-A Midland, though Triple-A wouldn’t be out of the question. Russell’s goal is to cut down on his strikeouts, while defensively the A’s want him to get a better read on the ball as it jumps off the bat.

OF Billy Burns – His speed was well-documented before spring training even started, but who knew Burns would make the impact he has? The switch-hitting center fielder, perhaps the fastest player in the organization, has appeared in nine spring games and leads the majors with seven stolen bases while hitting .292 with seven runs scored. In a story posted Thursday, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal cited scouts who “rave” about Burns' instincts as a leadoff man. Rosenthal also notes that Burns was one of just three players in the minors last season who posted 50-plus steals with an on-base percentage over .400.

The natural reaction is to wonder if Burns, 24, could be playing his way into making the big league club. That’s probably a stretch considering he’s played only 30 games as high as the Double-A level. But as a newcomer to the A’s – he was acquired from Washington for reliever Jerry Blevins – Burns has made team officials take notice, so consider his spring a success already.

LHP Drew Pomeranz – The big lefty has appeared in just two games so far. He’s allowed two runs on four hits, but he’s struck out four in his two innings. A’s coaches praise his fastball but want Pomeranz , 25, to hone his secondary pitches. Obtained from Colorado in the Brett Anderson trade, Pomeranz was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft but has yet to truly tap into that potential on the big league level.

The A’s have pitching depth, so they won’t be rushing him. Although they consider him a bullpen candidate, expect Pomeranz to begin the season in Triple-A Sacramento’s rotation.

RHP Michael Ynoa – It’s been a bumpy road for the six years Ynoa has been in the A’s organization due to injuries. He took the mound for the first time with the major league club Feb. 28, when he went 1 1/3 scoreless innings against the Giants, giving up three hits with two walks and one strikeout. He gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings in his second outing, including a two-run homer to Mike Olt, one of the Chicago Cubs’ top prospects.

The A’s were pleased to get a full season out of Ynoa, 22, at Single-A last season. Brandon Moss raved about Ynoa’s overall repertoire after facing him in batting practice. Whether he begins this season with Stockton or Double-A Midland, the A’s just want him to remain healthy and keep progressing.

OF Billy McKinney – The A’s top draft pick last June (24th overall), McKinney was not an official invite to big league camp. But he’s been training at the minor league complex, and he’s among the group that’s been called over to provide depth in Cactus League games so far. The 19-year-old McKinney, a center fielder who was drafted out of Plano (Texas) West High School, has drawn comparisons to Mark Kotsay for his overall game.

He’s appeared in three games and struck out in his only two at-bats. But McKinney earns high marks for his advanced approach at the plate. He’ll be interesting to keep tabs on in his first full professional season.

RHP Raul Alcantara – Baseball America rates Alcantara as the A’s top pitching prospect. The 21-year-old put himself on the map last season with a standout year split between low Single-A Beloit and high Single-A Stockton. Alcantara went 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA over 27 starts. He walked just 24 over 156 1/3 innings, and Baseball America rates Alcantara as having the best changeup and best control in the A’s farm system.

Alcantara has appeared in two games so far, allowing three hits and an unearned run over four innings.

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