Russell, fellow A's prospects ascending to the top
Shortstop recently returned to Class A Stockton after two months on disabled list
In the discussion surrounding the A's top prospects, all eyes are on Addison Russell. The 11th overall pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Russell has Oakland fans believing the A's may have found their shortstop of the future.
Russell is just 20, but he has shown flashes of brilliance in the field and at the plate. In 779 Minor League plate appearances, he's posted a slash line of .305/.392/.532 while dazzling defensively.
After seeing time at Triple-A Sacramento late last season, Russell began 2014 at Double-A Midland. But he has battled hamstring issues early on, most recently spending two months on the disabled list.
On Sunday, Russell assuaged some of Oakland's fears, going 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a stolen base with Class A Stockton -- his first Minor League action since early April.
Russell -- ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of the A's Top 20 Prospects -- is one of a handful of recent Oakland draftees taken in the early rounds out of high school, giving the farm system a bottom-heavy feel.
Of the players on the Top 20 Prospects list selected since 2012, only Russell and first baseman Max Muncy have played at a level higher than Class A in 2014.
"These are guys that aren't quite on the so-called fast track that maybe certain college guys might have been that we've taken in past years," said assistant director of scouting Michael Holmes. "But these are guys that are progressing at a very good rate through our system and have done very well."
Russell reunited with several of Oakland's top prospects at Stockton on Sunday, including 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney and 2012 first-rounders Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson. All four are 20 or younger.
Some might know Robertson as the "other" shortstop drafted in 2012, but he has proven to be more than that. He's hitting .295 with an .821 OPS this season at Stockton, where his short right-handed swing is turning heads.
"I think it's worth noting how well he's done, not only offensively but defensively the past two years for us," Holmes said. "This guy shows the ability to play shortstop, and he's also gone out and swung the bat very well."
No A's Minor Leaguer has shown as much pop as Olson, ranked No. 5 on MLB.com's list of first-base prospects. After finishing second in the Midwest League with 23 home runs last year, he's hit 15 homers and drawn 55 walks in 296 plate appearances this season at Stockton.
"He's always controlled the zone, he's always had good at-bats, he's always walked at a high rate," Holmes said. "The power was going to come, and I think this year has been a testament."
McKinney, Robertson and Olson are likely a couple of years away from their big league debuts, and the same goes for two of Oakland's top pitching prospects, Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa.
Alcantara underwent Tommy John surgery in May, a big blow following his breakthrough 2013 campaign.
Ynoa has battled injuries ever since joining the organization in 2008, but he still has electric stuff and has fanned 33 batters in 21 2/3 innings in 2014.
While much of the farm system's talent is stacked at Class A, a few position players could don the green and gold as soon as 2015.
Before this spring, some speculated Russell could reach the Majors this year. But 2015 seems like a more realistic projection, especially given his hamstring issues.
Another potential 2015 arrival is speed demon Billy Burns, snatched from the Nationals in a December trade for reliever Jerry Blevins. In 319 Minor League games, he has swiped 154 bases. There isn't much room in the A's current outfield, but the switch-hitter seems likely to run his way onto the roster eventually.
"He has the ability to impact the game with his legs offensively and defensively," said Holmes. "You get that type of athlete with that type of speed tool in our system, obviously it's something that's exciting to have."
Muncy, Burns' teammate at Double A-Midland, could also be vying for a 2015 callup. With impressive plate discipline and decent power, the first baseman boasts a .392 on-base percentage for the RockHounds.
On the one hand, none of the A's Top 20 Prospects are playing at Triple-A. But after a few strong Drafts, their young talent is rising, gradually, toward the top.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.