MESA, Ariz. - Will Addison Russell be able to shake his hamstring issues?
The 22-year-old shortstop has been plagued by hamstring injuries in his brief career, including a right hamstring tear in 2014 and then another injury that kept him out of the National League Championship Series last fall.
Russell hurt his left hamstring in Game 3 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals and his absence in the NLCS was one of the more underrated aspects working against the Cubs as they were swept in four games by the New York Mets.
Russell admitted it was difficult to have to sit on the sidelines and watch.
"You're grinding with these guys every single day and then you're presented a rare opportunity being able to hopefully go to the World Series. And then it ends up being cut short by an injury," Russell said.
"This year, definitely taking more precaution to make sure my body's ready for a long season."
Russell showed up to camp in great shape, drawing rave reviews from manager Joe Maddon for his conditioning.
Over the winter, Russell worked out at the Andrews Institute in Northwest Florida, specifically working on strengthening and training his legs and back muscles in an effort to avoid injuries.
"I'm pretty confident in my hamstring this year," Russell said. "I've been working out really, really hard and I'll hopefully be able to swipe more bags this year."
Maddon is thinking along those same lines, talking last week about Russell's physical shape and how the second-year shortstop is quicker laterally, which will help in the field and on the basepaths.
But are the Cubs really going to want to risk Russell's health stealing bases when he has a history of hamstring issues?
The Cubs traded away Starlin Castro in the offseason, so the Cubs don't have as many backup options now. In the case of another Russell injury, Javy Baez would probably have to move from his super-utility role or else that burden would fall on 33-year-old light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki (.599 career MLB OPS) or 34-year-old Ben Zobrist who hasn't played shortstop since 2014.
However, that's all hypothetical and obviously the Cubs are hoping it never gets to that point.
The Cubs are working with Russell to correct his running mechanics, similar to what they did with Jorge Soler - who also has been hampered by soft-tissue injuries.
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
"We watch it closely," Maddon said. "You gotta monitor him. ... Watch for any little signs and give him some rest when it's necessary. It's communicative. You gotta talk to the guy, listen to your trainers. If there's any kind of inclination, just back it off and give him a day.
"People will say, 'Oh he's only 22, he doesn't need a rest.' I'm so over that discussion. It's not true. It's 162 games, there's very little rest, you're on planes all the time, you're playing at different hours. There's all kinds of different items that are involved.
"These guys, they need rest, too, if you want them to play well at the end of the season. It was unfortunate what happened at the end of last season [with Russell], but we'll do everything we possibly can to monitor it."