A year ago, Addison Russell was at Pace High School in South Florida, preparing to be taken in the 2012 Draft. Despite obvious talent, the then-18-year-old faced questions about his conditioning and ability to stick at shortstop, and he figured to go somewhere near the end of the first round.
By the time the Draft rolled around, however, Russell had shed about 20 pounds and went 11th overall to Oakland, surprising many Draft prognosticators. The early returns from the young shortstop seemed to give a strong indication those questions about his weight and defense won't arise again.
Russell had perhaps the best debut of any 2012 Draft pick, ripping through three levels while compiling a combined .369/.432/.594 line in 55 games, even adding 16 stolen bases while getting caught just twice. He began his professional career with the Rookie-level Arizona League A's and proved too advanced for the league, hitting .415/.488/.717 with six homers, five triples and four doubles in 26 games. He needed just 13 games in the short-season New York-Penn League with Vermont to earn another promotion, this time hitting .340 while slugging .509 in 13 games.
In his last 16 games of the season with the Class A Burlington Bees, Russell hit .310/.369/.448, completing a successful two-and-a-half-month run in which he answered just about every doubt that'd been cast on him. Heading into the 2013 season, he'll be MLB.com's No. 48 overall prospect, making him the sixth-highest rated prospect from the 2012 Draft.
MiLB.com: How's the offseason been going? What kind of work have you been putting in?
Addison Russel: The offseason's been going good. I've been working out every day, doing my program from Oakland. A lot of field work, agility stuff, hitting, doing it all. It's about forcing yourself to make yourself better that day. During the season you have to wake up, have to do this or that, so it's probably the hardest thing to do. Whenever you're home, you could just lay on your butt and not do anything, so you have to just make that decision to get up that morning and work out and get better.
MiLB.com: Coming in after being drafted, did you expect to experience such immediate success?
Russell: At my high school I worked my butt off, so I was hoping that I'd be successful. Going through the system, buying in with the coaches is something that I love to do, and my first year went pretty well. It's just a different experience than I could ever imagine, it's awesome.
MiLB.com: How did you find the adjustment to pro ball? Fairly easy?
Russell: In a way, because I have my set goals and I'm always looking straight ahead. It's what I want to do.
MiLB.com: Landing with the A's, an organization with a pretty good reputation for developing young talent, did that make you pretty happy?
Russell: I was pretty excited when I heard that. I had no idea they would pick me, I don't think I ever met with the Oakland people. My agents were telling me I might get picked by someone I hadn't met yet, and that's what happened.
MiLB.com: Were you pretty comfortable with moving up through three levels pretty rapidly?
Russell: I had to make the adjustment of getting to know new guys and getting to know new pitchers, so I wasn't really grounded this past season. Just here, there, everywhere -- never really got to stay grounded and get comfortable -- but that's just the adjustment you have to make, and I tried to look on the brighter side of everything and have fun with the first season.
MiLB.com: Given how you played last season, there's been some hype building around you as a prospect. Have you been surprised by any of that?
Russell: In high school I dealt with that same kind of thing. In school it was kind of a hard thing not to acknowledge. But as I got older, I've just turned my right shoulder to it, don't really pay attention to it -- the hype, the rankings. It's still a good thing to hear, though.
MiLB.com: Where do you see your strengths as a hitter? Did the power you showed surprise even you?
Russell: I think I hit the gaps pretty well, on the back side I have the most pop. I don't know if [the power] surprised me. I'm still trying to figure out what kind of player I'm going to be and the player I'm going to be developing into. It's just a matter of getting better. If I see more pitchers and pitches and take something from every at-bat, it'll all fall into place. I was somewhat surprised [at the power], I guess, it was a good thing to see though.
MiLB.com: How are you feeling about your defense at shortstop?
Russell: Pretty good. My footwork is getting better, the arm strength is there, my range is getting good. I'll be fine sticking at shortstop.
MiLB.com: Anything specific you're trying to accomplish in your first full season as a pro?
Russell: Just basically be a sponge. That was kind of my goal last year too, nothing has much changed. I want to learn a lot and experience a lot this next season. Where Oakland puts me, decides where I'm fit to play, I'll defer to them, but as far as anything else, just be a sponge and soak everything up.
MiLB.com: Lastly, you play for a Bay Area team now, so do you think the 49ers will win the Super Bowl on Sunday, or do you think Baltimore will pull it out?
Russell: [Laughing] I'm pulling for the Niners because their quarterback [Colin Kaepernick] is just raw, and it'd also be pretty cool to see a Bay Area team win.