Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
A’s prospect Addison Russell made his 2014 debut this week with High-A Stockton. The shortstop is rehabbing from a hamstring injury and is set to be promoted to Double-A Mindland Sunday.
SAN JOSE — Oakland A’s High-A affiliate Stockton has featured something of a minor-league dream team at the top of its lineup this week.
With 2012 first-round draft pick Addison Russell on a weeklong rehab assignment, the Ports have three legitimate infield prospects occupying the three top spots in the batting order.
2012 first-round draft pick Daniel Robertson has moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate Russell, who is set to move up to Double-A Midland on Sunday. The infield carousel is nothing new for Robertson though, who bounced back and forth on the left side of the infield while sharing time with Russell during stints at rookie-ball and Low-A Vermont in 2012.
“It’s pretty cool to look at (the current lineup) because we’ve got some guys that can hit a little bit,” Robertson said. “It’s a good group of guys — great talent. We all like to come out here and have fun and compete. It’s cool how we feed off each other.”
With Robertson and second baseman Chad Pinder, Stockton has packed quite an offensive punch up the middle this season. The tandem entered into last night’s game at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium as the Ports’ best two hitters, with Pinder ranking eighth in the California League with a .321 average and Robertson second on the squad hitting at a .295 clip.
Also a natural shortstop, Pinder is acclimating to second base this season. And he and Robertson have forged a strong chemistry over the middle, which is a big reason why Stockton entered into play Thursday with a 35-32 record and tied with Visalia atop the wild card standings in the California League North Division standings.
“Robertson and Pinder, they’ve been solid all year,” Stockton manager Ryan Christenson said. “There was a little stretch where [Pinder] was battling some freak injuries. But when he’s been in the lineup, he’s been great. He’s acclimated to second base really quickly. He struggled a little bit initially with it being his first time on the right side of the infield … but he’s done a tremendous job.”
Russell has emerged as one of the top prospects in the organization though. An 11th overall draft pick out of Josh Donaldson’s alma mater Pace High School in 2012, Russell impressed in his first full season of professional baseball last season by hitting .275 with 17 home runs at Stockton. He even earned a brief promotion to Triple-A Sacramento.
This season, Russell entered into spring training in contention for the big-league job at shortstop. However, two weeks into Cactus League play he pulled his right hamstring during a game while accelerating out of the batter’s box.
“I just want to go out there and perform,” Russell said. “I wanted the coaches to see me play and they put me in good positions to play and I performed pretty well there. With my injury, it was a bummer. But I knew if I just kept up the good work and stayed on a good schedule that I’d come back.”
As a result of the injury, the prized prospect was shut down for the rest of spring training and was only cleared to play two weeks ago when he started rehabbing at extended spring training in Arizona. But he’s been a welcome, albeit brief, addition to the Stockton squad.
“He looks good,” Christienson said. “He’s moving good. He’s playing a hundred percent healthy.”
Robertson and Russell have quite a bit of history together on the baseball diamond. Although they grew up on different sides of the country — Russell from Pace, Florida and Robertson from Upland, California — the two frequently played together on the national showcase stage, competing in both the Perfect Game National Showcase and the Aflac All-American Game.
While they only knew each other in passing, the two made fast friends upon being drafted into the A’s organization in 2012. Robertson and Russell actually roomed together in the spring at the former’s condo in Phoenix. And along with Pinder, also selected out of high school as a second-round pick in 2013, the trio have the distinction of successfully moving up the minor-league ladder at a swift rate.
“You know, the three high school guys in the first round and we all just kind of clicked,” Russell said.
As fate would have it, the trio ran into a buzz saw Thursday with Giants reliever Santiago Casilla on a rehab assignment of his own. Casilla impressed by working the first inning and retiring Robertson, Pinder and Russell in order.
Russell is keeping a close watch on the big leagues though, especially the goings on in Oakland, and with quite some admiration at that.
“They’re first in the A.L. West, and they’re all performing good,” Russell said. “Cespedes is making those throws out there in the outfield and Crisp is doing his thing. The minor-league guys, we look up to those guys and the way they go about their business.”
And whether it’s sooner or later, Russell — with his natural athleticism and his smooth power stroke — seems destined to eventually be one of those guys. His current infield constituent at Stockton sure seems to think so, as Russell figures to be a big-leaguer for many years, Robertson said.
“I feel like I can be a good asset to the team,” Russell said. “There’s really no timeline in my mind. I just want to go out there and play and let everything else take care of itself.”