Barry Larkin opened the eyes of Stockton Ports' shortstop Addison Russell at a young age.
Larkin, who played 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010, came to a baseball clinic in Russell's hometown of Pensacola, Fla.
"I remember he signed every autograph," said Russell, MLB.com's top-ranked A's prospect and No. 44 overall. "It made me think I could do this -- play baseball as a career."
The A's drafted Russell 11th overall in 2012, and he hit .369 in 2012 across three levels that season, finishing second among Oakland Minor Leaguers with nine triples despite only playing 55 games.
Things didn't start so well this season, however, as he hit .224 in April and .208 in May and struck out 57 times in 178 at-bats during the first two months. But Russell has improved his offense in June, hitting .333 over the last nine games and fanning only four times in 36 at-bats.
"Pitchers can spot up in this league -- they can pitch to their spots," Russell said. "I learned to be more patient and not swing at bad pitches."
Stockton manager Webster Garrison started the season with Addison leading off, because "we wanted to get him more at-bats," he explained.
Having Russell lead off also appeared logical because he has been successful on 23 of 26 stolen base attempts as a pro. After his slow start, Garrison moved Russell to the No. 2 spot, believing leadoff may have taken an edge off his aggressiveness.
"He's the youngest player in the league, but he shows a lot of maturity for his age," Garrison said of the 19-year-old. "He is humble and wants to learn. He fits in well with his teammates."
Garrison added that Russell is an outstanding defensive shortstop, showing a strong arms and good hands. He said he has good range on grounders and can range well into the outfield to catch fly balls.
Though Russell's .234 batting average and 61 strikeouts seem unimpressive, he is batting .311 with runners on base, and 15 of his 23 hits in those situations are for extra bases.
The A's gave Russell a $2.625 million signing bonus, and he would've attended Auburn had he not signed.
"Being drafted in the first round is an opportunity you can't pass up," said Russell. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My family and friends supported my decision."
Top closers: Jake Barrett of Visalia and Scott Oberg of Modesto each have 14 saves to lead the California League. Barrett, ranked by MLB.com as the No. 16 prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization, has a 1.17 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. Oberg had 13 saves last year for Grand Junction in the rookie-level Pioneer League.
Stingy 66ers: Pitching has lifted Inland Empire back into the race for the South Division first-half championship. On Monday, Dan Reynolds allowed two hits in eight innings in a 3-0 shutout over Visalia. It was Inland Empire's second consecutive shutout. In a 3-0 victory over High Desert on Sunday, Kramer Sneed allowed two hits over six innings, and three pitchers followed to complete the shutout. Inland Empire had a 12-1 victory over High Desert on Saturday as Orangel Arenas allowed three hits over six shutout innings.
Moving up: The Los Angeles Dodgers have promoted pitcher Duke von Schamann, who had a 7-2 record for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. Pedro Guerrero of Inland Empire was also promoted to Chattanooga. The San Diego Padres have advanced second baseman Cory Spangenberg to the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League. Spangenberg played in Lake Elsinore in 2012 and 2013, although he was hurt during the second half of 2012. He's the No. 9 Padres prospect.
Well-traveled: The California League is the ninth league in which Marquez Smith has played. Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the eighth round of the 2007 Draft, he is hitting .310 with eight homers in 45 games for the Bakersfield Blaze. Smith reached Triple-A in 2010 with the Iowa Cubs and played last year in the Mexican League.