Addison Russell Improves His Body To Stay At Shortstop

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Every spring, after a couple of months of winter workouts and conditioning, the same cliche rings throughout baseball: "I'm in the best shape of my life."

It's easy to scoff at the comment as a player likely wouldn't offer the opposite, but for Addison Russell, there is a lot of truth to it. A shortstop at Pace (Fla.) High, Russell has dropped almost 30 pounds since last summer and is reaping the benefits.

"I feel good," he said. "Probably the best I have in my high school career."

Russell has been on the radar for a couple of years now, having been the starting shortstop at Pace since he was a freshman. He bulked up to add power and was curious about how he could carry the weight as a power-hitting shortstop. With Team USA last summer, however, he was moved to third base—partly in deference to the slick-fielding Gavin Cecchini, but also because coaches and scouts felt he had become too big for shortstop.

Wanting to prove he was still capable of playing up the middle, Russell started conditioning between the USA trials and the 18-and-under team's trip to Colombia for the Pan Am Championships. He started running more, doing yoga and cycling classes and the weight began to disappear.

"At the beginning of the summer I weighed 220, 225 pounds," Russell said. "When people moved me to third, that was the motivating factor. I wanted to be the best I could be and I wasn't the best."

By the time he returned to the field for Team USA, he had slimmed down enough to hold down shortstop and USA Baseball officials felt that unlocked his tools. In 44 at-bats at the Pan Am games he hit .364/.481/.614 with 14 RBIs. He made just two errors in 63 chances, on very challenging surfaces.

Pacing The Defense

The weight loss has helped Russell's quickness, and even though scouts aren't sold on him staying at shortstop, they seem inclined to give him a chance. Head coach Charlie Warner has been at Pace for 20 years and has seen several good players come through, including former Padres farmhand Drew Cumberland. He says Russell may be the best one.

"There was a ball that went through our third baseman's legs and he made the play," Warner said. "I've never seen something like that at any level. He's been consistent defensively for four years. Defensively, we take things for granted. He reads hops well. He took one in the gut one night and it never hit the ground. He tries to get the best hop, but he'll take the in between and control it if he has to."

When you're a well-known prospect like Russell, opposing pitchers rarely give you much to hit during the spring season. Every player handles it differently, but it may have contributed to Russell's offensive struggles early. He was tinkering with his swing, changing his hand position and leg kick. Warner also said he was pressing because of the attention that was on him, but his staff has the philosophy of letting a player fail before making adjustments.

"He really struggled early on," Warner said. "He struggled with runners in scoring position. His swings had not been good. The last couple weeks, he's finally simplifying things and getting back to where he was last year. Part of the problem was he didn't know what he was doing."

Warner went on to share a story about Russell in the batting cage. He told Warner that he added a leg kick, but when he took his cuts, Warner didn't see it. So he pulled out his cell phone and took video to show Russell what he was doing. There was no leg kick.

"It took him a while to get back to what he needs to do, but he's on track now," Warner said.

Scouts love Russell's athleticism and power potential. With his transformed body and ability, the Auburn signee could go off the board before the first round is finished. He has drawn comparisons to Juan Uribe because of his swing, but the physical comp doesn't fit anymore. His actions can fool the eye as it doesn't always look easy, but he can make the tough plays.

"There's nothing wrong with the tools," a National League crosschecker said. "He's a good athlete and he can do some things on the field that causes problems for others and he's got power."

Russell had helped Pace to a 20-6 record and was hitting .368/.578/.809 with six home runs, 26 RBIs and 36 runs in 68 at-bats as the Patriots entered the region semifinals in Florida's 6-A playoffs.