Per Rustin Dodd and the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Royals’ first round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, pitcher Ashe Russell, has stepped away from professional baseball.
As Dodd notes in the linked article, it has been an extraordinarily difficult two-year stretch for the 20-year-old out of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a professional, Russell has only pitched 38.1 innings.
Some have speculated that this lack of pitching was due to some manner of injury, but MLB.com writer Jeffrey Flangagn confirmed to Royals Review in April that nothing has been physically wrong with the pitcher. Russell was kept in extended Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona this year.
Dodd’s piece sheds some light on the issue, the main problem being a mechanical failure intertwined with a mental block:
This year, Russell took part in spring training but was not assigned to a minor-league affiliate when the season began. He remained in extended spring training until after the draft, when club officials met with him and discussed his future, Picollo said.
“I don’t think he was having as much enjoyment with what he was doing the last year and a half or so,” Picollo said. “When you see players get to that point, you just want to help them. And sometimes the thing they need to do is take a step back and get away.”
Club officials have described Russell’s battle with his mechanics as a combination of physical and mental issues. In some cases, Picollo said, it can be difficult to separate the two.
“He’s made some adjustments that have been detrimental to having success,” Picollo said. “And (he’s) now trying to let the ball go the way he did at one time. But until he develops that feel again, it’s hard to let him go pitch right now.”
In an interview last week, Moore said Russell was “working on developing as a person away from the game.”
The Royals in particular have a very good track record with pitchers taking a break. Zack Greinke, 2009 American League Cy Young Winner and one of the top three most valuable pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons, stepped away from the game due to psychological struggles in 2006. More recently, Kansas City’s current de facto ace, Danny Duffy, left baseball in 2010 for personal reasons. Duffy was a large part of the 2014-2015 playoff runs and signed a lucrative extension in 2017 that keeps him as a Royal through 2021.
However, each individual case regarding a player quitting baseball is unique. Sport at the highest level is as grueling mentally as well as physically, if not moreso. The continual pressure of performing at your best lest you lose your job to one of a continuous parade of younger, equally hungry athletes is immense under the best circumstances. Rather smartly, the Royals say there is “no timetable for a potential return to the organization,” and indeed Russell may not ever play for the Royals organization again.