Oakland’s Addison Russell deemed AZL’s top prospect

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Shortstop Addison Russell, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft, beat out a couple of higher profile Cubs to be named the Arizona League’s No. 1 prospect by Baseball America on Monday.

Cubs outfielders did claim the second and fourth spots on the list, which ranked the top 20 prospects from the 13-team league. Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in the draft, was ranked No. 2 after hitting .347/.363/.480 with one homer in his 18 games in Arizona. Cuban defector Jorge Soler was ranked fourth despite hitting .241/.328/.389 with two homers in his 14 games there. Soler looked better after moving up to the Midwest League, where he hit .338/.398/.513 in 20 games.

League MVP Joey Gallo, who was drafted by the Rangers 39th overall this year, claimed the third spot. The third baseman hit .293/.435/.733 with 18 homers in 43 games.

The 18-year-old Russell hit .415/.488/.717 with six homers and nine steals in his 26 games in Arizona. There’s some skepticism about whether he’ll remain at short or require a move to third, but the A’s have to be thrilled with the way he hit in his introduction to the pros. He’ll probably open next year in low-A ball in the Midwest League.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.