The obsession with what’s next means Addison Russell Watch starts right now for Cubs fans and the Chicago media.
The Kris Bryant Show debuted on Friday at Wrigley Field, leaving Russell back at Triple-A Iowa as the next mega-prospect on the verge.
People around the Cubs say Russell is the real deal, a potential franchise shortstop who will force big questions about what to do with Starlin Castro, a three-time All-Star who’s still only 25.
This is a good problem for an organization that thinks it is built to be a contender for years to come.
When the Cubs sent Bryant, Russell and Javier Baez down to minor-league camp in late March, Joe Maddon didn’t know what to say to a 21-year-old shortstop with such a polished all-around game. The manager came up with nothing, except for giving Russell the keep-doing-what-you’re-doing message.
“He’s going to continue to develop at Triple-A and we’ll see what happens,” team president Theo Epstein said. “But certainly the No. 1 thing we like to see in our players before they move up is dominating a level. And he’s off to a good start.”
Russell entered this season as the No. 3 prospect on Baseball America’s list – or two spots behind Bryant – and with only three games above the Double-A level on his resume.
The noise will get louder with Russell starting to play second base and hitting .355 (11-for-31) with seven RBI through his first seven games at Iowa.
“He hasn’t been at Triple-A all that long, but he’s playing great,” Epstein said. “He’s been having really good at-bats, using the whole field. He played outstanding at shortstop the first week of the season, made like four highlight plays.
“He’s probably going to continue to play second base through the weekend and we’ll see how that goes. But we’ve had a lot of injuries in the infield. We’ve had to shuffle some things.”
Beyond the health concerns, the Cubs haven’t been getting much production out of their second basemen. Arismendy Alcantara began the season on a 1-for-19 skid that makes you wonder when they might want to shake things up again.
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Maddon pushed hard for Baez to make the team out of spring training, believing his up-the-middle defense, speed and flashes of power could carry him until things started to click at the plate.
Baez hasn’t rejoined the Iowa club yet after the death of his sister last week. Epstein said: “There’s still some things for him to deal with – with his family – before he comes back."
The Oakland A’s left spring training last year thinking Russell could be a difference-maker in a pennant race – before he tore his hamstring and became a headliner in the blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade on the Fourth of July.
The Cubs have to be looking at Russell and seeing the same upside for what should be a very interesting summer on the North Side.