A's Draft Signifies Changing Times
OAKLAND—With his senior season approaching, Addison Russell
had something to prove.
The infielder from Pace High in Florida wanted to show scouts that he could remain at shortstop rather than switch positions. So he went on an exercise and body-shaping routine that cut his weight from 225 pounds to 190. And he convinced the A's that he deserved to have his name called with the 11th overall pick in Monday's draft.
"He's a very good baseball player. We see him as the prototypical five-tool player, and he plays in the middle of the diamond," said A's scouting director Eric Kubota
It was a most unusual day in Oakland, as the A's selected high-school players with their first three picks. The Athletics once lived by a mantra of Moneyball, where high-school draft picks were believed abhorrent. Times have changed.
"I keep telling you guys we like high-school players. You just won't believe me," Kubota joked with the press corps. It is the first time since 1978 that Oakland's first three draft picks have been high schoolers.
Russell had been projected as a late-first-round selection, but the A's liked him far more. And Russell liked being a surprise. "I was with my family," he said. "We all started jumping up and down and got real excited."
Kubota believes Russell can stay at shortstop; that he has both the arm and the quickness to become an above-average defender and an offensive force. Russell was the starting shortstop for USA Baseball's 18-and-under national team and performed well in all the showcases, Kubota said. He hit .358 with 8 homers for Pace High this year, after changing his diet plan.
Russell had been trying to get bigger and stronger during his junior year, but it was not a good plan, according to Kubota. So Russell took off the weight to show he could stay at shortstop. He says almost all his skills have improved. His hands and range are better, and his footwork has improved considerably.
He says his bat has improved, too, after facing the top pitchers in the showcases. "Against good pitchers, I went the other way. I think my power is going the other way," the righthanded hitter said.
In another unusual move for the A's, Russell is represented by agent Scott Boras
, whose clients the organization has avoided in the past. When asked about his preference of signing or accepting a scholarship to Auburn, Russell provided a well-schooled explanation of how he considered it important to be a role model for his brother and two sisters by furthering his education.
"We feel comfortable about getting him signed," Kubota said with a wry smile. The A's usually know what it will take for a signing before someone is drafted, and with the new rules, it is hard to imagine an overstep.
There was simply nothing usual about this draft day in Oakland.
• Daniel Robertson
, from Upland High in Southern California, became the A's second pick. He was the 34th player selected overall as compensation for free agent Josh Willingham
. The A's believe he has power potential and could become a potent third baseman.
• The third high schooler came 47th overall when the A's selected first baseman Matt Olson
from Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga.