Last season, the Yankees took advantage of a good run by David Hale and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for a much younger reliever. That 26-year-old fireballer, Addison Russ, was left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft late last year, but no team took a chance on him and he remained on the Yankees organization.
A couple of days ago, it was reported that Russ received an invitation to Yankees spring training, where he will have the opportunity to impress and show that he can be a contributor during the 2021 campaign.
Due to the impressive names ahead of Russ on the Yankees’ reliever depth chart, he might not win a spot on the Opening Day roster. Nonetheless, he has the potential, stuff, and past performance to suggest that he can work his way up to earn a place in the bullpen at some point in 2021.
The absence of a minor league season in 2020 because of the pandemic meant that Russ was assigned to the alternate training site all season long — first with the Phillies, and later with the Yankees. There, he remained active, as he told Dan Kelly last September: “We still play games and get our work in on the mound. Hitters are hitting every day, basically it’s like a glorified practice like you would have before a game. As far as like BP, fly balls, ground balls, throwing, and then with a little inter squad game type action at the end of the day. It’s get guys the work in that they need to stay ready.”
Before that experience though, Russ showed for three years in the Phillies system that he can be a dominant reliever when it matters: live, professional games. Drafted out of Houston Baptist University in 2017, he has pitched 152.2 frames with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.087 WHIP in 126 career minor league games. The best part is Russ’s swing-and-miss potential, as he has struck out 200 batters over that span, which equals an 11.8 K/9.
The highest that Russ has pitched thus far is Double-A ball. It happened in 2019 with Reading, and it was a success. In 56.2 innings, he had a career-high 12.9 K/9 coupled with a very manageable 3.2 BB/9. From a run-prevention standpoint, his performance was also dominant: a 2.54 ERA, a 2.62 FIP, and a 2.20 xFIP.
Why do I think Russ can make an impact in 2021? Obviously, I’m watching from afar, and there isn’t a ton of information about him nowadays. But Russ has two pitches that could be big-league ready in his mid-90s fastball and a splitter:
Newest Yankee Addison Russ throws a splitter has an 11.8 K/9 in his professional career.— Lucas A (@DBITLefty) August 21, 2020
Apparently, Bryce Harper helped him stop tipping the pitch during spring training last year. https://t.co/gDDiZ2txff pic.twitter.com/hLObKpzFan
Relievers that only have two trustworthy pitches need good control and command to have a successful MLB career.
So far, Russ’ minor league numbers suggest that he doesn’t have a control problem. Sure, he is not peak Carlos Silva (who is, really?), but his career 2.6 BB/9 figure compares favorably with other top relievers in the Yankees’ system. If he can capably harness his fastball/splitter combination while keeping walks down, then he could make a big-league impact in a hurry.
All in all, Russ can limit walks and hits (career 7.2 H/9 in the minors) while missing lots of bats. Luckily for him, there should be a Triple-A season this year — knock on wood — so he can start the season there and finish developing for a few weeks or months. When he is ready and the Yankees have an opening, Russ will show what he can do.