One of the enjoyable sidelights of Spring Training is getting an early glimpse of future stars in your farm system.  There seems to always be an unexpected sensation that bursts onto the scene each spring.  Even though we have 14 games left in Arizona before heading north, this spring has already showcased three young A’s phenoms that will bear watching in the next few years.  So, remember these names:  Shane Peterson, Michael Choice and Addison Russell.  All three have left lasting impressions and could be appearing at the Coliseum sooner than you might think.

Peterson, the last remnant of the Matt Holliday trade with the Cardinals, has been a Cactus League revelation.  Sporting a sweet stroke and a propensity for using all fields, the 25-year-old outfielder has rattled off four multi-hit games and currently ranks third in the Cactus League in batting (.457), is tied for the league lead in doubles (5) and is second in hits (16).  And this does not even count the double and homer he hit last Friday against Texas, which were washed away with a fourth-inning rainstorm in Surprise.  As Manager Bob Melvin commented to a group of reporters recently, “Evidently, he doesn’t make many outs.”

Peterson_S_1A former Long Beach State standout and second-round pick by St. Louis, Peterson has always toyed with the .300 mark during his minor league career.  But judging by his inflated 2012 numbers, it seems he may have had an epiphany last season.  After hitting .274 with Double-A Midland, he was promoted to Sacramento where he figuratively tore the cover off the ball.  Hell, he might have even literally tore it off the ball.  His stat line in 38 games with the River Cats:  .389, seven homers, 23 RBI, .484 on-base percentage, .618 slugging percentage.

Choice, whose legs resemble veritable tree trunks on a sturdy 215-pound frame, showed enough in his first 20 at-bats this spring to turn some heads in the A’s front office.  At that point, he was hitting .550 and leading the Cactus League.  He’s tailed off since, going 2 for 16 over his last seven games, yet he’s still batting .361 and among the league’s Top 10 in both hits and RBI.  He’s hit some majestic drives in camp, many opposite field shots.

I had the pleasure to sit next to his father in the stands for one game at Phoenix Muni.  He told me about how the University of Texas-Arlington—located in his hometown—was the only college to offer him a scholarship.  Considering what a physical specimen he is—and I’m sure was—I found it hard to believe he didn’t get more offers coming out of high school.  What we’ve seen in the desert is a determined young man who displays power, speed, the ability to hit the ball where it’s pitched and a polished fielder in center field.  And, of course, in my line of business, you can’t help but love the name.  When he arrives in Oakland, he’s going to be a headline writer’s dream:




The A’s first-round selection in the 2010 Draft, Choice seems have put his injuries of the past behind him.  If it wasn’t for the outfielder glut on the big league roster, he could very well make a run at a spot this year.  A September call-up is more likely.

While the 19-year-old Russell is a relative neophyte compared to Peterson and Choice, he appears mature beyond his age.  We list him at six-feet tall in the media guide, but he looks taller in person.  He left little doubt that he might be a quick riser in the system before he was reassigned to minor league camp on Sunday.  Last year’s first-round pick, Russell impressed on three different levels last season, hitting .415 in the Arizona Rookie League, .340 in Short Season Vermont and .310 in Single-A Burlington.  His combined .369 average, 26 extra-base hits and 45 RBI in 44 games prompted Baseball America to suggest he may have had the best first season of anybody in baseball last year.  Lofty praise, indeed.  But when you watch him at the plate, as well as in the field, you quickly surmise this is not your ordinary 19-year-old.  As Melvin said Monday, he reminds him of the first time he saw a young Justin Upton in Arizona’s camp when he was with the Diamondbacks.  In fact, the A’s manager went so far to say Russell might have put together some of the most sophisticated at-bats of anyone in camp.  “Unlike most young players who try to pull the ball to impress, Russell hit the ball where it was pitched,” the Oakland skipper said.  “Very impressive.”

I suppose he could have said that about all three players.  So, A’s fans, while we should rejoice over so many young players returning from last year’s AL West champions, there’s plenty of good reason to be excited about the team’s future.  With shining gems like Shane Peterson, Michael Choice and Addison Russell on the horizon, we might just keep this thing going for a few more years.


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