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PHOENIX – Shortstop Addison Russell was sent down to the minors Sunday, but the Oakland A’s top prospect was in camp long enough to leave a lasting impression on manager Bob Melvin.
Russell suffered a strained right hamstring six days ago that has kept him out of games, but the 20-year-old did enough in his second big league spring training to convince Melvin he’s on a relatively fast track to the majors. Russell is generally considered one of the top 10 prospects in the game.
“The more he was out there, the more comfortable he looked,” Melvin said. “Toward the end, he really looked like a guy who belonged here. He just needs to go down and get more reps. He’s got the entire game to be able to play here.”
Had Russell remained healthy, Melvin said he likely would have traveled north with the team and played in the Bay Bridge exhibition series before being sent out. But the team saw no use in rushing him back into games in Arizona and risk further injury.
“He’s impressed to the point where we feel really good about him,” Melvin said. "I know he feels good about himself too. It’s unfortunate that he had the injury.”
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Russell appeared in 12 games and hit .280 (7 for 25) with two doubles, a triple and three RBI. He’s viewed by scouts around the game as a five-tool shortstop with good athleticism. Russell said he wants to cut down on his strikeouts after whiffing 116 times in 107 games with high Single-A Stockton last season. Defensively, A’s infield coach Mike Gallego said he wants Russell to work on reading the ball better off the bat and getting a quick first step on grounders.
There’s much anticipation among fans about when Russell will make his big league debut. The A’s won’t be rushing him because they’re happy with Jed Lowrie as the starter this season, and veteran Nick Punto is a trusty backup. But if Russell terrorizes minor league pitching, they won’t hold back their top prospect either.
He's slated for Double-A Midland to start this season. Before heading to minor league camp, Russell squeezed in one last session of tee work with A’s hitting coach Chili Davis in the cage behind Phoenix Municipal Stadium’s main field.
Also sent down Sunday morning were infielder Darwin Perez and pitchers Philip Humber, Matt Buschmann and Deryk Hooker.
Humber, who threw a perfect game in 2012 with the White Sox but has struggled in the majors since, signed with the A’s over the winter. Melvin said the right-hander has the ability to consistently get hitters out.
“If he’s confident he can succeed here, he definitely has the stuff to do it,” Melvin said. “He needs to go down there, work on throwing strikes and just dominating. I don’t want him going out there just getting people out. He really has the stuff to certainly dominate at the minor league levels. He needs to believe that. We’ve seen the success he’s had at the big league level before. It’s not like his stuff has gone away.”