Futures Game Notes on A's Prospects

Kiley puts a spotlight on the A's participants from the Futures Game with scouting reports and thoughts on heavily-hyped prospects RHP Michael Ynoa and SS Addison Russell.

See my separate breakdowns of the Futures Game's pitchers & hitters. There will be separate articles for Mets prospects from the game (RHP Noah Syndergaard, RHP Rafael Montero and OF Brandon Nimmo) and another article about Dodgers OF Joc Pederson.

You can see Michael Ynoa as 8th pitcher in the above video and get an immediate idea about why he smashed the previous bonus record with $4.25 million as a 16 year old in 2008. The 6'7 Dominican righty showed advanced athleticism of a huge frame, low 90's velocity and feel for three above average pitches, making him one of if not the best 16 year old pitching prospect of all-time.

A lot has happened since then, but also not much at all. He pitched very little after signing, due to some arm stiffness and Tommy John surgery, throwing only 29.2 innings until this spring. He started in Low-A and acquitted himself well, moving to Hi-A at age 21 just before the Futures Game, the normal age for many top prospects reach that level.

He showed those same primary characteristics on Sunday, with a big athletic frame, solid delivery and good velocity, but was hit around some in his inning, giving up a walk, home run and a couple of runs on three hits. Ynoa worked 94-95 and hit 96 with a four-seam fastball, outstanding velocity in most cases but ordinary in this game and given Ynoa's past. He threw a couple good curveballs at 79-81 mph, again showing the progress you'd hope from his amateur days, with the pitch above average and showing the elements to be plus. His changeup has always been a third offering and is what got him in trouble in the game, throwing it too firm at 88-89 mph and leaving it up in the zone.

This was my and many top evaluators first chance to see Ynoa in game action and while his name is a bit of a cautionary tale and surrounded with plenty of rumor, he showed the ability scouts need to see to project a useful big league rotation piece. With an injury history, every scout I talked to is wary of over-projecting with some suggesting Ynoa is a bullpen fit just due to the risk factors and lack of information. I have him as a #4 starter with room to move up or down based on the progression of his feel and health.

Addison Russell is a guy I've seen a lot of as an amateur, but he didn't make it easy, with my projection of him changing wildly with every game I saw. Since entering pro ball, however, my thoughts have coalesced around him ending up as an everyday shortstop with an above average bat--one of the best prospects in baseball.

I was told about Russell as early as the summer after his high school sophomore year as a current shortstop with broad shoulders and a projectable frame that could add tons of strength and move him to third base, but he already had impressive power. Russell ended up adding that weight in the summer after his junior year, before any scouts expected, and some of it was bad weight. So, on Team USA, he was told he was now a third baseman for the first time in his life and Russell didn't like that, even though he had now developed some of the best power in the draft class. In the winter before his senior season, Russell went to work in the weight room, dropping 30-40 pounds and looking like a different guy.

Scouts slowly came around on his defensive ability, as there was an adjustment perdiod for Russell with his new body as well. He went from a maxed-out third baseman with good hands and 65 raw power to a skinny but powerful shortstop with 55 or 60 raw power. He still was having trouble hitting in games that I saw that spring, but I realized it was just due to the very poor competition in Florida's panhandle region, as he went off at a pre-draft All-Star Game. Russell put on a show in BP, hit an opposite-field homer in the game and was making hard contact with everything he swung at. Russell is just one of those prospects that is much more comfortable with a wood bat facing 90 mph+ and has trouble against poor high school pitching, common for players who have great bat speed and can't ratchet down their swing tempo well. Russell also ran a 6.5 60, surprising even to the scouts that had watched his transformation all spring, finishing neck-and-neck with now Rangers prospect and former 1st rounder Lewis Brinson in a foot race.

Russell completed his winning over of scouts at that Sebring All-Star Game and went 11th overall to the A's. Since Sebring, scouts opinions haven't really changed, as he's been raking everywhere he's gone and his above average speed and defense look like a good bet to make him a long-term shortstop. With an aggressive 2013 assignment to Hi-A and an early season back injury, Russell struggled a bit but came on once healthy to put up a solid .262/.341/.477 line considering his position and age--three or four years younger than much of his competition.

Russell, like many above average bat speed and power types that have been huge prospects since early in high school, is an aggressive hitter and can get overly aggressive at times. As referenced above he looked bad at times in high school but has never had much trouble against advanced pitching for me. It's something to monitor but he's so talented and shows an ability to make adjustments that I think it's just a part of his style rather than a big concern going forward.

I went through my entire background on Russell to illuminate the full picture rather than just share the short version: he went 0-for-2 in the Futures Game, shows the rare combination of above average raw power and speed and should stick at shortstop. I'll be releasing a midseason Top 50 prospects list soon and Russell will show up high on the list as a shortstop that could be showing up in a few more summer All-Star games.

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