The rise of Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant is one of the biggest stories of 2015 in the MLB. Since he was called up to the big club in April, the media has still swirled around him, but at the same time a new name rose in the Cubs’ Minor League system as the nation wondered yet again when the next big prospect would get called up from Triple-A Iowa. That name was Addison Russell.
Russell, 21, was a first round pick (11th overall) by the Oakland Athletics in the 2013 amateur draft. He came to the Cubs as part of a trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and himself. McKinney is no slouch, but the jewel of that trade was Russell, a standout shortstop with astounding defensive range. If things panned out for him in Double and then Triple-A, he was expected to make his way quickly onto the Major League roster sooner rather than later, which he accomplished in April of this year.
Russell has been working at second base this season although the Cubs brass know that he’s not only a natural shortstop, but a considerably better one than incumbent All-Star Starlin Castro. The second base experiment is so that he can get on the field and into the lineup with the Major League squad. It might not happen this season, but sometime soon he will assume his position as the shortstop of the future for this Chicago ball club. When that happens, Castro will most likely move over to either second or third base.
Trade rumors swirl around the Cubs and their plethora of infielders as those needs (and interest) have arisen from teams like the New York Mets. Also included in the rumors is fellow shortstop/ second baseman Javier Baez. Most are expecting the ball club to move Baez if anyone, but only time will tell.
Russell has had his difficulties at the plate this season posting a slash line of .247/.295/.416 in 24 games. He’s tallied two home runs and 10 RBI as well as nine doubles. We can anticipate a boost in his batting average and on base percentage as he settles in at the plate. He’s only got 95 plate appearances in the Majors thus far. Russel is not a power hitter so don’t expect his slugging percentage to go up too much, but a few more doubles and triples could still help that cause. As he’s usually batting ninth behind the pitcher he can look forward to getting plenty of good looks, setting the plate for the top of the order.
Realistically, however, he wasn’t brought up for his bat. Things will even out and most assuredly improve for him as the season progresses, but after losing Tommy LaStella (Right rib cage inflammation), Mike Olt (Hair line fracture in right wrist), Arismendy Alcantara (lack of production) and Javier Baez (bereavement) the Cubs couldn’t wait any longer to call Russell up from Triple-A.
Both the fans and Cubs brass can still expect not only a continuation of good things, but also many improvements by Russell for the remainder of the 2015 campaign. He’s played all 24 games so far at second base (subbing twice at short) Look for that streak to continue. Unless injured, you’d be hard pressed to see Castro out of the lineup. Aside from injuries during his career he was benched for one game during a bad hitting streak two years ago by then manager Dale Sveum. Before that particular game, he owned the active streak for “most games played in a row” at 269. (The record still owned by Cal Ripken, Jr. with 2,632.)
Russell has four errors this season (.963 fielding percentage), but things will continue to improve for him at second with more reps. Until he came to the Cubs he was strictly a shortstop so second base is still relatively new to him. He’s already shown his exceptional athleticism with some amazing defensive plays from the middle infield. Expect even more “web gems” as both the season and his comfort level progresses. He’s got an above average arm and his field prowess (knowing when and when not to take risks defensively) has been steadily improving.
All in all, things are looking up for Addison Russell. He’s only got 24 games under his belt but he’s still got quite a high ceiling potential-wise. The defense is solid and the hitting will continue to progress over time. One this can be certain to all Cubs fans and team brass alike: Russell is going to be in this line up for a long time to come.