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Athletics prospect Russell not rushing things

PHOENIX -- There would be no greater cry of joy from the collective consciousness of Oakland Athletics fans come opening day than to see Addison Russell's name on the roster.

The shortstop is the club's top prospect, is widely regarded by scouts as one of the best dozen potential breakthrough players in the game and could be the foundation for the club's infield for a half decade once he arrives.

Fans have been drooling for a chance to see him in an Oakland uniform since he was drafted two years ago in the first round.

There is next to no chance Russell, 20, will in fact be on the Athletics' roster. He has played only three games above Single-A and needs professional game experience before getting thrown into the maelstrom of Major League Baseball. He will, though, be on display the next few weeks in the A's lineup with Cactus League play starting Wednesday.

A year ago, Russell was also in camp, but he kept mostly to himself and played relatively little.

What a difference a year has made. After hitting seven homers in rookie ball, he opened up with 17 last season at high Single-A Stockton.

"Twelve months ago I was a little different player," he said. "I wasn't as relaxed, I was new (to spring training). I'm more patient."

And he's clearly more mature. It's not just the matter of physical maturity in that he's stronger, although the home run spike suggests that. It's mental maturity in that he's seemingly the one guy who's not obsessed whether or not he makes the opening day roster.

His focus is on other things.

"My mindset is different," he said. "As a player, I'm going out there now to hit what a pitcher throws. I'm still aggressive at the plate and on the field. I'm trying to figure out what kind of player I am and what kind of player I will be."

And what kind of player will he be? Manager Bob Melvin said the clues are there now, and the suggestion is strong that he'll be a keeper.

"He's stronger and more mature than a year ago," the manager said. "From what I'm hearing from our development people, he's got skills in every facet. Maybe he strikes out a little too much, but he's also a guy who's going to hit some home runs.

"So the last thing you want to do is to say, 'You've got to cut those strikeouts down in big league camp.' We just want him to be comfortable."

If so, they are succeeding, because Russell repeatedly talks about how much more comfortable he's feeling in this camp.

"I'm not thinking at all about (making) the roster," he said. "For now, I'm just looking forward to playing some games and letting my talent show and see what happens. They will decide what they decide.

"But for now I'm able to pick some brains here, get some insight into what I have to do to become a big leaguer."

The A's aren't going to load up Russell with critiques and endless coaching as they might do with another young player. They believe in his abilities, on defense, on the bases, on offense, and they just want him to expand his feel for the game.

"I tell him don't worry about it, just play your game." Melvin said. "You don't want to over-instruct a young player like this. You want to let him do his thing and let his talent level take over."

This spring, that's the plan.

-- Jesse Chavez, Tommy Malone and Jarrod Parker will get the first three starts of the spring Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Because of the way the schedule is set up, Parker is the likely opening day starter based on going every fifth day.

-- Melvin said he's joined Twitter, this time under an alias. He's following 29 people but has yet to tweet. A year ago he joined, then gave it up after three days, but he says he needs to keep up with the times.

-- First baseman Brandon Moss missed Sunday's workout because of a family medical issue. He said he'll be back on the field Monday.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.contracostatimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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