Kyle Russell first joined the Chattanooga Lookouts midway through the 2010 season, when he succumbed to Southern League pitching and struck out 1.5 times a game.
Russell returned to the Lookouts last year and fared much better, but he played a supporting role to the all-star tandem of Alfredo Silverio and Scott Van Slyke. The 25-year-old outfielder from Texas has the most plate experience in Chattanooga entering tonight's season opener against the Tennessee Smokies at AT&T Field, and he's ready to assume some ownership chores.
"I want to be a leader for this organization, and I want to be a leader for this team," Russell said. "I want to have that mark by my name, so the guys upstairs can see that this guy has really matured. I'm really looking forward to doing what's right on the field and off the field and turning this team into a winning team."
Rated by Baseball America as the best power-hitter prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Russell played 120 games with the Lookouts a year ago and hit .259 with 29 doubles, 19 home runs and 69 RBIs. His strikeouts per game dipped to 1.2, and he was promoted late in the season to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he played 11 games.
The 6-foot-5, 185-pounder from the University of Texas got squeezed out of Triple-A camp last week, so a quick start could result in a quick promotion.
"He needs to get going, and I think Kyle knows it," Lookouts manager Carlos Subero said. "He had a great spring in Triple-A, and he had two doubles and a triple in the one game I had him. Everything was opposite field -- not that he needs to be an opposite-field hitter -- but he's showing a better hand path that's more through the zone.
"If he's able to keep that, hopefully he can get off to a good start and can leave early."
Russell is among seven Lookouts position players who were with Chattanooga last year. Also back are outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez (.277 in 116 games), infielders Pedro Baez (.210 in 32 games), Travis Denker (.288 in 66 games) and Jake Lemmerman (.234 in 21 games), and catchers Griff Erickson (.275 in 41 games) and Matt Wallach (.247 in 76 games).
Van Slyke led the league last year with a .348 batting average, while Silverio was sixth at .306. The pair ranked 1-2 in extra-base hits, with Silverio amassing 76 and Van Slyke 69.
"That was a great punch," Subero said, "and it will be tough to replace."
Russell is ready to help in any way possible to prevent a drop in plate production. He is not focusing on what may have transpired his first two years in Chattanooga, adding that he is coming off a great spring and is receiving good tutelage from Lookouts hitting coach Franklin Stubbs.
"The strikeouts are going to happen, because that comes with the territory of being a power hitter," Russell said. "If the strikeouts keep happening, then I need to add more power. That's basically what it comes down to."