Russell heads to spring as 12th-best MLB prospect

The A’s will enter spring training with one of the youngest rosters in the Major Leagues.

There is a drawback to that, albeit a small one. When MLB.com just came out with its annual list of the top 100 prospects, the A’s only had one player on the list. Shortstop Addison Russell, who turned 20 on Thursday, ranks 12th.

Beyond that, nada for Oakland.

    It’s not all bad, however, because the list includes only players who have rookie status heading into the season. Sonny Gray, who heads into the season as part of the rotation at 24, is no longer a rookie. He’s moved from prospect to the real deal after winning 10 games at Triple-A Sacramento last year and another five in the big leagues.

Gray is one of three of the six candidates for the rotation who will start the season aged 25 or younger, including Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily. And A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone will be 26.

Russell, the A’s first-round pick in the 2012 draft, spent most of the 2013 season at Class-A Stockton before a late-season jump to Triple-A. He was ranked 48th in the poll a year ago and jumped 36 spots after hitting .275 with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 homers, 21 steals and 60 RBIs while playing solid defense with Stockton. Particularly notable was his OPS of .885.

He was in the A’s spring training camp last year and the A’s will have a longer look at him this time around.

Jed Lowrie (.290, 15 homers, 75 RBIs and an ability to come up with big hits at big times) was the shortstop in 2013 and will be so in 2014 as well. That will give Russell at least a full year at Double-A or split between Double-A and Triple-A to hone his skills.

That means the A’s are not in a hurry to rush Russell. But if he continues to progress at the same rate this year as in 2013, he could be the latest to discover that the club has no problem with pushing players who show they are ready.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.