Russo Perfecting His Role In Arizona

Russo is playing everywhere in Arizona

It's only been a month since the Yankees sent Kevin Russo to work on his versatility during the Arizona Fall League and the early returns have been promising. It's difficult to know which position he will be playing from one day to the next and that's just one reason that Russo is quickly becoming known as a super utility player.

Since being assigned to the AFL last month, Russo's versatility has allowed him to play a number of positions around infield, including nine games at third base, one game at shortstop, three games at his primary position at second base, as well as three games in left field.

That type of versatility usually comes along with a ‘super utility' title and most managers love to have a player like that on their roster.

However, the decision to play Russo at other positions was not a knock against his defensive ability as a full-time second baseman.

During the 2006 season, he was named the ‘best defensive second baseman' in the Florida State League and some of those same skills should eventually translate over to the other positions around the infield.

"Just as a middle infielder, you're always moving around and using footwork and your hands and stuff like that, and trying to turn double plays," said Russo. "It's more of an athletic position than people take it as."

Each of the positions require their own individual skill sets so Russo is making it a point to get extra reps during pre-game drills to better prepare himself for anything that he might be faced with during the game.

"There's obviously some differences [at all the different positions] but I get ground balls everywhere before the game during batting practice, so I just try to be as comfortable as I can over there."

"I've been working at it and I'm going to continue to work at it. Each and every position has their tough things … they have different things that you have to do in different situations and you just need to think a little bit more."

With all the adjustments that are required to become utility player, it wasn't much of a surprise to see Russo struggle a little bit during his first two weeks in the AFL.

He opened the season by hitting just .143 in his first 21 at-bats, but something seemed to click for when Russo went 5 for 5 during a game on October 18th. He attributes much of that success to his hitting instructor James Rowson and his helpful reminders about maintaining his approach at the plate.

"We had our roving coach down here, James Rowson. He's awesome - he's unbelievable. We worked for a few days and he had a couple things to say here and there, and he helped me out a lot.

"Sometimes you just go through [slumps], it's baseball, you go through tough spurts and you've just gotta stick with your approach – stick with your plan and one day it will click and you don't really know it but you just keep working everyday even if your doing bad, you've just gotta keep working and keep working and he really helped me out when he came down here." recalled Russo.

That advice has been a theme for the Yankee hitters in the AFL and Russo certainly has the baseball acumen to bring that type of focus to the plate everyday.

"James always talks about approach, approach, approach and using the same plan every time and says the rest will take care of itself." said Russo.

"He's definitely onto something there because every time I talk to him he just tells me to keep with it and maybe have a couple minor adjustments here and there, but one day it just clicks."

That consistent approach has already helped Russo in some unexpected ways during the Fall League. He started the year batting in the leadoff spot but quickly found himself near the bottom of the order during his early-season slump, and then he eventually came back to hit in the middle of the lineup during his recent hot-streak.

That consistent approach has allowed the manager to pencil Russo anywhere in the lineup and know that he's going to stay within his abilities and do what's best for the team.

"I try not to change anything that I do as an individual," revealed Russo. "If I try to do too much then I'm not going to be able to perform. But wherever they stick me, I'm just gonna have the same approach and hopefully I can provide for the team that way."

It's still early in Russo's career so it's hard to say what his final role in baseball will be, but for now, his versatility on both offense and defense can help a team in a number of different roles. But whatever that role might be, Russo just wants to reach his ultimate goal and contribute to his team's success.

"As long as I break in [to the big leagues]. I don't really care what happens, just as long as I'm playing. I don't care where I'm at, as long as I'm playing and having fun. That's the only thing that matters to me," he concluded.

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