06/05/12 1:23 AM ET
A's nab high school infielder Russell at No. 11
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
Selected by the A's with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft on Monday, Russell faces the choice of taking the pro ball route or going through with his commitment to Auburn. Watching his ways, no matter the outcome, will be three younger siblings.
"I take that to heart," Russell, from Florida's Pace High School, said just hours after being drafted. "I think that's a family decision right now. My brothers and sisters, I really do want to set an example for them and go to school, but then again, the Oakland A's are giving me the opportunity to perform at the Minor League level, and I'm just excited about it all."
The A's are hoping their decision to stray from the college pool and pluck from the high school level -- a rarity in the organization -- shows Russell how committed they are to grooming him into an impact shortstop prospect, something they've been missing for some time.
"He's a very, very athletic kid who is also an outstanding baseball player," A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "He could really be the prototypical five-tool player in the middle of the diamond. He's a guy we've seen a lot of, a guy we really like his athleticism and upside. We feel comfortable about getting him signed."
The first-round high school selection -- Russell hails from Florida's Pace High School -- marked Oakland's first since 2001, when the organization drafted pitcher Jeremy Bonderman. Since 1991, the only other high school players the A's selected in the first round were Eric Chavez (1996) and Ben Grieve (1994).
"I didn't know how this Draft was going to go down," Russell said, "but I'm very proud and very happy they selected me to play for their team. I have a whole bunch of family and friends over. They're all happy, and I'm just ecstatic. This is just one of my biggest dreams, and I'm just glad the Oakland A's picked me."
After selecting Russell, the A's snatched up high school infielders Daniel Robertson (No. 34) and Matt Olson (No. 47) in the supplemental round that followed as compensation for Josh Willingham and David DeJesus.
Russell boasts impressive arm strength and athleticism -- tools that seemingly make him an option in the outfield as well -- and also carries above-average bat speed and tremendous power potential.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound infielder, advised by agent Scott Boras, represents the second shortstop taken by the A's in the first round in the last four years, with Grant Green -- since turned into an outfielder -- being selected 13th overall in 2009.
Though Russell has been projected as a third baseman by some, he's intent on sticking at shortstop -- so much so that he made it his mission to drop 20 pounds over the winter, "to show my athleticism at shortstop," he said.
"Going into my junior year, I wanted to see where I would be if I would gain some muscle mass, see if it could help at the plate," he said. "But it affected my speed, and that's one of the things I think is my strong keys, so I started taking the initiative to lose some weight."
"I think there's been a lot of characterization that he may have to go to a corner [infield position], but he really transformed his body," Kubota said. "He looks and plays like a shortstop."
Russell turned to healthy meals, running, yoga and Pilates, among other activities, to achieve his goal. His heaviest weight reached 225 pounds, and he now weighs in at 190.
"I'm pretty happy with the results right now," he said.
The interest in Russell shows the A's are clearly not afraid to take their time developing a young offensive bat. He is said to show plus bat speed and flashes big power to the middle of the field, batting over .500 in each of first three high school seasons and most recently posting a .368 average with seven homers as a senior. He added 30 walks for a .532 on-base percentage.
"We just know he's a great kid and plays the game with a ton of enthusiasm, a lot of energy," Kubota said. "We have nothing but positive marks on his makeup and his character."