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Rockies Draft Report #1: Kyle Russell, RF, Texas

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Russ' Take

In the Texas Longhorns 2005 recruiting class, Kyle Russell played second fiddle to Jordan Danks, John Danks' brother. However, that didn't stop him from garnering a spot on Baseball America's All-Freshmen second team in 2006 after hitting .276/.365/.546, 8 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 42 RBI, 8 SB. That's 10 homers in 55/48 GP/GS, second best on the team behind Drew Stubbs' dozen dingers, and I'll come back to that in a moment. It wasn't a season that would put any player as a possible first round selection the following year, especially one who would be draft-eligible as a sophomore (he turns 21 within 45 days of the draft). I've made references to Russell being a draft-eligible sophomore in some earlier general college baseball posts and at that time he wasn't close to being a high draft pick at that point. I believe David will touch a bit on what Russell's sophomore status means in relations to past draft-eligible sophomores.

If you take a look at Russell's profile for his 2006 season you'll find some very interesting notes there: 11-game hit streak, 11 multi-hit games, 12 multi-RBI games and 21 two-out RBI. He accomplished against some of the best college baseball teams in 2006, including Baylor, Nebraska, Rice, and Stanford. During the summer, he played for the Cotuit Kettleers of the wooden bat Cape Cod Summer League, the premiere collegiate summer league. According to scouts, he demonstrated power potential there (#50 in the PDF file), but you've probably realized I haven't mentioned a key part of his performance out there.

So what exactly has catapulted Kyle Russell into draft stardom and a possible chance at being a top-10 draft choice? 20 home runs in 38 games so far. 20 in 38, a new Texas record for games to reach that plateau. To highlight how significant this is, let's look at the previous record holder: Jeff Ontiveros hit 20 in 71 games. Texas might not win the College World Series, something the team did in 2002, but he should see close to that number of games. Ontiveros hasn't had the greatest minor league career but Russell is quite different. For one, he stands 6'4" and weighs 185 lbs., while Ontiveros checks in at 6' and 220 lbs. Russell has quite a bit of room to grow and that could result in more power as he advances up the ladder. I also like that he swings a left-handed bat, which you can see that here (it was from the start of the 2006 season). But Russell isn't a one dimensional player as he's advanced, or will advance, in every major category this season: .354/.467/.915, 7 2B, 3 3B, 48 RBI, 7 SB. He has also increased his walks this season to 26, up from 17 as a freshman.

I'll hand it over to David now.

David's Rebuttal

That sounds great, Russ, but there are still many unknowns and questions when we talk about Russell.  One of the biggest concerns on Russell, according to scouts, is that he has a poor track record to date, and an aluminum bat swing, as referenced by Baseball America in their latest draft dish.  So that begs the question as to whether Russell is a "pure" hitter, or more of a three outcomes guy (walks, homers, strikeouts).  Strikeouts have been an issue with Russell, around one a game, and while I was willing to forgive Stubbs because of the total package, I would need more assurances about Russell's ability to be a plus defensively.

Another problem with draft eligible sophomores is signability.  Since Russell can still be draft twice after this draft, he won't lose leverage should he return to school at the deadline.  In addition, with only two years of college baseball under his belt, it's hard to determine whether or not his power is a fluke.  That said, the raw projectability is certainly intriguing.  Rox Girl, your take?

Rox Girl's Take

Look at that video clip you pulled again. First of all, note that there's zero deception in the motion of the pitcher, and zero movement on the pitch he's thrown right down the middle. Despite what the announcer says, it's not high and outside, Russell's just falling back on it. With a right handed pitcher leaving a mistake fastball up and down the middle to a left handed power bat, I would expect the ball to be hammered, but I would expect it to be a line drive toward the gaps or pulled into the right field seats, not a long and high fly to left. Watch the replay at the 0:43 second mark and slow it down to break apart the swing. The first thing I noticed was that the right foot moves into the swing and plants, while the back foot pivots, meaning that there's no real drive being generated from his legs. The second thing I noticed is that Kyle's front elbow goes out and skyward in his swing, pulling the bat through in an uppercut and the follow through pops him out of the stance into something more open long after the ball has departed.

In short, that hit that's a homerun with aluminum would be a pop up to the left fielder if he's unlucky, but more likely a foul into the crowd and short of the wall with wood. That said, to generate enough power to get it deep to left field with that many mechanical issues shows that should they straighten those out, there's a lot of potential there. In my eyes, unless there have been some serious steps forward in Russell's swing this year, it's too risky for a first round pick, particularly one in the top ten when there's so much more refined talent available. As David mentions, his eligibility status gives him a lot of leverage and I don't see him signing later in the draft where I think he'd be a more appropriate selection.

Russ' Final Assessment

Certainly, Russell has show the ability that could make him a top-10 draft pick, but as David and Rox Girl point out there are some serious concerns surrounding him. Is this the kind of player the Rockies should take this year? No, I don't believe so. There is too much risk here and while the Rockies are willing to go out on a limb in the draft on occasion, this isn't a time they should do so. He led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts with over 60 and the Rockies already have quite a number of players that swing and miss too often.

Tim Lincecum was a draft-eligible sophomore in 2005 and wasn't selected until the 42nd round. He had a problem with walks that season and went back to Washington in 2006 and we all know how that turned out for Lincecum. Russell won't fall that low this year unless he tells teams he wants seven figures before the draft starts, but he'd certainly stand to gain more after his junior year if he proves that this year isn't a fluke. With the new universal signing date in the middle of August, teams will hopefully be more astute in gauging the interest of their picks to sign with the team.

If at the ninth eighth pick I had a choice between Russell and Rutgers' Todd Frazier, I'd take Frazier. He has a better track record in college and during summer league play.