Cubs

Cubs putting Addison Russell on the fast track

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Cubs putting Addison Russell on the fast track

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs appear to be putting Addison Russell on the fast track.

Now that Kris Bryant is in The Show, Russell becomes the main attraction at Triple-A Iowa, where he’s moved from shortstop to second base, getting ready for his own potential call-up.

It looks like the Cubs are clearing a path for Russell, who entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect and a challenger to All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.

Exposing Russell to second base reminds you of the message Ryan Theriot once sent to Castro: Come and get it.

“We’re just trying to give him that opportunity to play there,” manager Joe Maddon said Monday at PNC Park. “Personally, I like guys like that playing a bunch of different spots in the minor leagues, if you can, because you never know where the need’s going to be on the major-league level.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“It’s just being a little bit more proactive regarding prepping him for a need that may be open here. So, yeah, you could surmise that (we) might do that. But it’s not a lock. It’s just a matter of like expanding his infield horizons.”

The Cubs clearly could use an upgrade at second base. Combined, Arismendy Alcantara and Jonathan Herrera entered Monday hitting .125 (6-for-48) with zero extra-base hits. Tommy La Stella (rib cage) is on the disabled list. Javier Baez is on a leave of absence from the Iowa affiliate after the death of his sister.

Russell, 21, could become an offensive spark. He’s hitting .318 (14-for-44) with nine RBI in his first 11 games with Iowa. He also got rave reviews in spring training for his slick defense and mature clubhouse demeanor.

“He’s making the transition,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey told The Des Moines Register. “He’ll be a full-time second baseman right now, but he’s a big-league shortstop.”

The Cubs can use this season to see which young players step forward – and which ones go backward – and then reassess everything this winter.

Castro began the day leading the team with 14 hits. He’s still a three-time All-Star who just turned 25 and remains under club control through 2020. That’s the type of player you can build around.

Castro seems energized by the possibility of playing for a contender – and playing with blue-chip talents like Russell.

“Right now, Starlin’s playing a great shortstop,” Maddon said. “I think Starlin’s playing really well, offensively, defensively. Everything he’s doing is really high-caliber right now.

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“I just think you need to keep a young player coming up. (If) you think his bat may be ready to play here, you got to get him a position to play.”

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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