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After strong debut at third, where do Cubs see Bryant long term?

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After strong debut at third, where do Cubs see Bryant long term?

Kris Bryant’s debut didn’t end the way many were hoping when it came to the 0-for-4 mark in the box score.

But Bryant still managed to impress in another facet of the game: defense.

It was just one day — and should be taken with the same grain of salt as his three-strikeout day— but Bryant’s performance in the field on Friday might put a bring a bit of a ceasefire in the debate over whether or not the No. 1 prospect in baseball can remain at third base for an extended time to start off his major league career.

Theo Epstein, for one, thinks Bryant can stick at third base, trumpeting that potential Friday after there’s been much discussion over where Bryant will settle in the field.

[MORE CUBS: The wait is over: Kris Bryant arrives at Wrigley Field]

“He’s got some versatility, where we feel comfortable with him in the outfield and third base, but I think this guy can stay at third base for a while,” Epstein said. “He wants to, he’s invested in it, he’s really athletic. He faces some challenges playing third because he’s 6-foot-5 1/2, but he’s aware of it. He works extremely hard. He brings great focus to the position. I think there’ll be some bumps in the road, as there are for all young players, but I think he’s got a chance to stay there for a long time.

“But he’s also a tremendous athlete and plays a really good outfield. So we’ll just see how his career evolves. Not too many players these days stay at one position their entire career. But I think the need right now is at third base, and we’re very comfortable with his defensive abilities working and continuing to improve.”

Friday featured Bryant making every play that came his way at the hot corner — and he was very busy — including starting a pair of double plays and making a highlight-reel diving snag on a rocket off the bat of San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris.

For the guy who was called up because of his prowess with the bat — he launched 55 home runs in 181 minor league games — the lack of success at the dish and the strong day with the glove was surprising.

“We did bring him up for his glove, didn’t we?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked after Friday’s game.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs fall to Padres as Kris Bryant goes 0-for-4 in debut]

Maddon’s joke aside, he had his own opinion on Bryant’s future in the field.

“It’s not impossible (for Bryant to play outfield),” Maddon said. “That’s something me and him talked about. … He likes playing the outfield, and that was good to know. I didn’t know that, I didn’t know how much he liked to play the outfield. When you’re asking guys to do multiple things like that, part of it is their acceptance, and if they accept it, it makes it a lot easier to do and normally they play better because of that. So I think (the outfield) could be possible, but I think it’s really intriguing to see if he can nail down third base, too.”

And if Friday was any indication, that could be a very real possibility. Madden certainly was impressed.

“I liked his defense,” Maddon said Saturday morning. “I’m watching that whole game, he played really well out there. That was really impressive. To me that was our bigger concern because you know he’s going to do (fine at the plate).”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Of course, a “concern” with a player the caliber of Bryant’s has to be taken in perspective.

That’s what Mike Olt is for.

“He’s a good defensive player,” Olt said Saturday. Olt’s injury was the determining factor in the Cubs calling Bryant up on Friday, according to Epstein. “Everyone’s quick to judge little things that could be wrong with him. People don’t think he’s human, so they’ve got to pick something. I think he did really well. He’s a good third baseman.”

The defensive effort was part of the reason Bryant was so pleased with his major league debut. Of course, for a 23-year-old kid realizing a lifelong dream, there wasn’t much that was going to ruin it. But while he wasn’t happy with the 0-for-4, three-strikeout game, he was happy with how he played in the field, pointing out to everyone focusing on the hitless debut that there are two sides of the ball.

“You have bad games, but I felt like I did good defensively,” Bryant said. “Always two sides of the ball, and I’ll keep on keeping on and come out here tomorrow ready to go, hungry and ready to help the team win.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: