The 21-year old shortstop was acquired from the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline last year, along with Billy McKinney, for Jeff Samardzija. Kris Bryant was battling Byron Buxton in most pre-season lists for the top prospect in baseball, but Russell was ranked third on many lists. With the questions about what position Bryant will play in the long term, and the fact Russell will likely be an above average defensive shortstop, one could argue Russell is a more valuable prospect and player moving forward.
Russell will debut at second base where he has played five games, all this year in Triple-A Iowa, while he has played the other 223 games of his minor league career at shortstop. Russell may be the best all-around shortstop prospect in baseball, he will probably never win a Gold Glove. His arm and defensive ability rank above average at best, with the most likely future being an average defender. That said, he does have enough of an arm and enough defensive chops that his stay at second should be short-lived as short is his best position.
At the plate is where Russell will really shine. A minor league career slash line of .301/.377/.520 speaks to his ability with the bat. As with most young hitters, he needs to cut down on the strikeouts and take more walks, but with a career strikeout rate of just 21% it is hardly a red flag.
Despite playing in just 68 games in 2014 after missing two months with a pulled hamstring, he still hit 13 home runs. The power should translate to the next level, as doubles to start, but the home runs will come as he matures and he could wind up being a 20+ HR guy from a premier defensive position.
With the impressive bat skills and enough defensive ability to be a quality shortstop, Russell will likely be an All-Star game regular in his career, but don’t be surprised if he gets off to a slow start. He has played just 77 career games in Double-A or higher, and just turned 21 in January. When most prospects his age are looking to succeed in full season A ball, he will be looking to succeed at the highest level, and at a new position. There will certainly some rough days ahead, but those will soon be overshadowed by great days and what could turn into a fantastic career.