Addison Russell’s future with Cubs still to be determined


Without a doubt, Starlin Castro will be the Chicago Cubs’ shortstop come Opening Day 2015. Incoming skipper Joe Maddon recently stated that Javier Baez – as well as everyone else on the roster – will have to earn his playing time and will most likely have to battle recently acquired Tommy La Stella for the second base job out of spring training.  But what about highly-touted shortstop prospect Addison Russell?

Russell was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the first round by the Oakland Athletics in 2012, and was ranked Oakland’s top prospect before being traded to the Cubs last season. The youngster dealt with a hamstring injury for the first half of 2014, but after being traded, turned it up with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. He played in 50 games in the Southern League and finished with a respectable slash line of .295/.350/.508, scoring 32 runs and knocking in 36, with 11 doubles, 57 hits and hitting an eye-opening 12 homers in his short period of time there.

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Columnist Jonathan Mayo of recently ranked Addison Russell as the third-best shortstop prospect in all of baseball behind Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa and Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor respectively – both could be called up at some point in 2015, although injuries have slowed both players’ ascent to the big leagues.

Russell showed major improvement last season – especially after coming over from the Athletics – as he was in the midst of a slump before making the transition. He demonstrated why he was Oakland’s top prospect, showing explosive hip rotation, plus bat speed, getting through the zone quickly, with tremendous plate coverage and making a lot of hard contact.

The young phenom has always showed a mature approach as indicated by his minor league career .379 on-base percentage. There is room for improvement, however, as similar to most young players, he has shown a propensity to strikeout way too much.

As a defender, Russell possesses plus arm strength and can throw the ball from anywhere on the diamond, also displaying incredible range to both sides, and is especially fluent when charging the baseball to make a play. He is an above-average runner as well, with natural athleticism and instincts, flashing 20-plus steals potential, though he wasn’t as aggressive on the base paths in his 2014 campaign due to the nature of his injury in the early part of the season.

Russell’s only Triple A experience came in 2013 as he played in three games, going 1-for-13, so he still needs to prove what he can do there. Castro, on the other hand, is signed as the Cubs’ shortstop through 2019, Baez is looking like he might be the second baseman of the future and Kris Byrant (deservedly so) is next in the pecking order. What is the Chicago Cubs front office to do?

The answer is nothing.

The organization is sitting pretty with no need to rush minor league talent. What does the future hold for the slick fielding shortstop? Will he one day don a major league uniform for the North Siders or will he become a trade chip for a glaring necessity mid-season before that ever happens?

For now he’ll remain in the minors and continue his development, but Addison Russell has all the makings of a five-tool, all-star caliber shortstop, capable of hitting somewhere in the middle of the Chicago lineup – and those don’t grow on trees.

So what happens when he’s ready for The Show and has nothing left to prove in the minors? Only time will tell.

Next: Cubs, Strop could be heading to hearing on arbitration