Several Oakland A's top prospects and non-roster invitees have made strong first impressions in big…
New Kid on the Block
"It's exciting," says Russell, who turned 19 on Jan. 23. "I'm trying to learn from everyone, just get a piece of everyone's knowledge, and just soak it in. I want to come here and just play. I just want to have fun and experience some new things, and just have fun with it."
Russell went 1-for-2, doubling and scoring on Sunday in his first spring game for Oakland, and has impressed manager Bob Melvin.
"He works hard, and he had some pretty good at-bats [Sunday]," Melvin said.
Just a year ago, Russell was embarking on his senior season at Pace (Fla.) High School, where he hit .358 with 40 runs, 33 RBI, nine doubles, two triples and eight home runs en route to being drafted 11th overall by the A's in June's First-Year Player Draft.
"I was with family and friends at my house in Florida," says Russell about draft day. "They all came over and we had a graduation party the same day as draft day, so it was pretty good to see everyone, and I was really excited when the A's took me. It was exciting. I had a lot of family and friends there, so it was a really good experience to share with everyone."
Just seven months before, Russell had signed to play baseball for Auburn. It only took four days after the draft for him to sign with Oakland, forgoing college ball. He's been taking batting practice with wooden bats ever since he was 12. All he'd ever wanted to do was to play professionally.
"I was pretty much set on going to school, but the A's gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I had to take it," Russell says.
Four days after the draft in early June, Russell reported to Oakland, where he met the team, took batting practice and overall got the royal treatment.
"I got to go in there and meet the guys, and I was really nervous," Russell says. "I was just so nervous about making an impression on everyone, meeting everyone and taking BP and groundballs in front of everyone. Looking back, there was no reason to be nervous, because everyone out there started like me."
From there, Russell reported to the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League on June 20.
"The biggest adjustment, I think, was just living on my own," says Russell. "That, and also getting moved through the levels and adjusting really, really quick."
Within three months, Russell played on three different teams, hitting .415 in 26 games in the rookie-level Arizona League, then .340 in 13 games of low-A with Vermont of the New York-Penn League and finally .310 in 16 games with Burlington in the Single-A Midwest League.
"Vermont, they have a lot of good people there, good coaches, good staff, they all took care of me," Russell says. "The host family, with Freida, she took care of me. I can't remember her last name, but Freida, man, she was great. She made breakfast for us every morning, she made dinner for us every night. You couldn't ask for anything more than that."
For Russell, the biggest culture shock came from moving from Pace, which sits at the far west end of the Florida Panhandle, an area which has far more in common with the deep South than any other region, especially Vermont.
"You don't hear ‘y'all,' and you don't hear a whole bunch of Southern stuff that I'm used to," Russell says. "It was definitely different."
Ranked by OaklandClubhouse as the No. 1 prospect in the A's farm system, Russell has made quite an impression on Melvin so far in camp.
"Looking at him, you wouldn't know he just turned 19 and is still a teenager," says the Oakland skipper. "He's adjusted very well. He's a hard-working kid, he's very respectful."
As much respect as Russell has given his teammates and coaching staff, he's gotten his fair share of respect, as well, as he tries to soak in as much information as he can before heading to minor league camp.
"If you saw them down the street, you wouldn't even know that they're big leaguers, because they're just so cool," says Russell. "I could pick their brain about anything. I ask them questions all the time, and they never shove me off their shoulder. They always answer me straight up and truthfully. I respect them for that. It's a good experience that I just get to learn from."
That doesn't mean he hasn't had at least one Welcome-to-the-Bigs moment.
"Oh, yeah," he smiles. "My first time taking live BP for the A's, I had [Arnold] Leon hit me right in the leg with a 93-mph fastball, right in the leg."
The welt lasted for two days. Russell, for his part, hopes to last much longer before being ushered off to minor league camp, but he has no concrete expectations.
"I just want to do the best I can," Russell says. "I don't want to go through a day where I feel like, ‘Oh, I could have done this better or I could have done that better.' I'm just trying to live every day to what I want to feel in the evening. I want to get home and think, ‘Man, I had a good day today. I got better.' I just go over the day in my head and try to see what I could improve on, and I just try to pick my own brain at night."
Ryan Gorcey writes about the MLB for Fox Sports Next and publishes Cal Sports Digest. Follow him on Twitter @RGBearTerritory.
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