After taking some higher upside high school arms, the Tampa Bay Rays have turned to the college ranks in the 5th round to draft Michael Russell, a shortstop from the University of North Carolina.
Defensively, Russell is a classic scrappy infielder. He has played short in college, but at 6’2”, 200 pounds he likely doesn’t have the profile to plate there everyday in the pros. If he were to play one position everyday, it would likely be second base, where his average arm and fringe-average reactions profile much better than short. Knowing the Rays though, Russell is more likely to become a utility man. He can handle shortstop when needed, and could play second and third decently. His slightly above-average speed would also do well in left field, though he doesn’t have the arm to be more than an emergency option in right. He has a savvy for making plays and scouts love his all-out mentality and work ethic. The Rays love their versatility, and they have a scrappy player who profiles well at multiple positions in Russell.
Offensively Russell’s swing is a bit awkward, but he has still been a solid producer in three years at UNC, leading to comparisons with Hunter Pence. He has good bat speed, better than you would normally find with a 5th round college middle infielder. He hasn’t hit for much power in college, but this season he finally started to learn how to pull the ball with authority, and he will continue working on that as a pro. That combined with a solid plate approach should make him an adept hitter in pro ball. He is also a smart runner and will bring some value on the base paths moving forward. Overall Russell may not have huge upside, but the Rays could have a hard-working, versatile player that hits a bit better than your average utility man.