Des Monies, IA – This weekend was the opening home stand for the Chicago Cubs AAA affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. The opening game set a home opener attendance record, and was the largest April crowd in team history. Those records were likely in anticipation of seeing Cubs’ phenom Kris Bryant between the white lines. However, there was one small problem: Bryant did not make it to Iowa, and instead made his Major League debut in Chicago Friday. While Bryant has been dominating the headlines for the Cubs this year, do not forget about Addison Russell at the AAA level either. For this Cubs team, Bryant has been deemed the “Next Big Thing,” and Russell just may be the next, next big thing in Chicago.
Even without Bryant, the Cubs minor league prospects still have appeal. Chicago has been voted as having the top farm system in the big leagues over the last two years. With Bryant having carried much of that weight, Russell is this year’s number five prospect in the league. Behind Russell, there is Javier Baez, Junior Lake, C.J. Edwards, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber that are all viewed as being a part of the next wave of talent to reach the corner of Clark and Addison.
Russell was brought over from the Oakland A’s last summer in the Jeff Samardzija trade. The philosophy of Theo Epstein and company during this Cubs’ rebuilding time has been to try to acquire as many shortstops as possible as they are viewed to be the most athletic position on the field. Currently, the Cubs certainly do corner the market in that regard with Russell being considered as the best at the position. Thus far this season, Russell has hit .314 with one home run, seven runs, seven RBI, and a .781 OPS. On defense, he has also provided several sparkling plays as well.
With Bryant’s recent call up, the attention will now turn to when Russell just may join the 25-man roster and make his impact in the show. While he is a shortstop by trade, he just may very well be called up as a second baseman. During these first few games in the minors, he has been getting work playing second base for the first time in his young career. In talking to many, the general consensus is that he is “big-league ready.” With the early struggles of Arismendy Alcantara and journeymen Jonathan Herrera, it may not be to long before Russell makes his Major League debut. If things continue the way they are, look for a possible Russell for Herrera swap at second as the young Cubs continue to work their way into Joe Maddon‘s lineup.
During spring training, the debate has been how do the Cubs eventually piece together Russell, Baez, and Starlin Castro. Russell is by far the better defender that can handle the bat, Castro has the experience but may have the occasional mental lapse, and Baez has the enormous power potential but also has the high strike out rate. Will one of them require a position change, or even a change of scenery all together? Having a stock-pile of talented shortstops is the good problem that Epstein now has to be able to work his magic.
For the near future, Bryant will likely continue to dominate the headlines, but do not forget about Russell. The 21-year old is also as good as advertised. For the Cubs, Addison Russell is the next, next big thing, and will likely be joining the club sooner rather than later.