Does Cubs Prospect Addison Russell Force Starlin Castro Off Of Shortstop?
When shopping pitcher Jeff Samardzija earlier this season, the Chicago Cubs hoped to fill organizational holes with quality young players. It didn’t take the Cubs long to find a trade partner, trading Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for a prospect package centered around 20-year-old shortstop Addison Russell.
Wait! A shortstop? The organization already has its fill of shortstop talent. 24-year-old starting shortstop Starlin Castro is a three time All-Star. Castro has barely held off 21-year-old super prospect Javier Baez (Scouting Report) despite his All-Star status. Another shortstop moved off the position last season, 22-year-old Arismendy Alcantara (Scouting Report), is the Cubs starting center fielder. Adding another shortstop to the mix was unexpected. But few players are as dynamic as Addison Russell.
Russell entered 2014 as a consensus top-15 prospect. After dealing with right hamstring tightness in spring training, the former first round pick tore his hamstring the first week of the season with Double-A Midland. It took two months to recover from the tear. Three weeks after returning, Russell was traded to Chicago.
The 20-year-old knocked the cover off the ball with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in Tennessee. His production (.294/.332/.536) backed up the Barry Larkin comp thrown around by Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane upon trading Russell. Maybe it’s lip service, but it’s still high praise nonetheless.
The six foot, 195 pound Russell is more muscular than Larkin was in his prime. With room to add ten-to-fifteen pounds of muscle, the youngster will develop more power than the fleet footed Larkin. During a three game look, his best home to first time was 4.35, so Russell pushing 20 stolen bases in a season may be a stretch. Hustling down the line, the 20-year-old showed no effects from his hamstring issues. However, fitness concerns were present as Russell and his Tennessee teammates looked physically spent battling for a Southern League playoff spot. And while this is understandable from a group of players with a full season’s worth of games played, it’s concerning for a 20-year-old who appeared in less than 70.
Addison Russell can play shortstop in the Major Leagues. A strong first step, improving hands and a plus throwing arm aid in building a well-rounded defender. However, his defense is without question marks. Good shortstops flow through the ball fielding ground balls. Russell fielded grounders on his heels. Unable to maintain momentum towards first base, the shortstop lost precious seconds on bang-bang plays at first.
An offensive force as he ascended up the ranks, Russell’s bat was not as advanced as expected. His load is small. The hands go back ever so slightly as the pitch is delivered. Keeping his lead arm flexed, Russell is able to generate violent bat speed. His bat speed is second only to Baez in the Cubs system. There is considerable length in the swing. Russell gets extension very early in the swing’s progression. This resulted in either chopping down on the ball or getting underneath the ball. Luckily, Russell’s bat speed and pitch recognition skills make up for deficiency.
Russell struggled with timing the entire series. Striding too early, his upper body was in a constant game of catch up with his lower half. This caused Russell to hit flat footed. As the series wore on, his timing improved.
The shortstop’s power profile screams 25-30 home runs. The swing has natural lift and Russell’s hips generate the power through the swing. Timing issues limited in game power production as the 20-year-old collapsed his front side. However, Russell’s batting practice display was impressive and his raw power was on display.
The Chicago Cubs acquired a fine player in Addison Russell. The next Barry Larkin? Not close. The sum of the tools don’t add up. However, Russell is a future All-Star shortstop at the MLB level. If the Cubs trade Starlin Castro this off-season, Javier Baez is not the Cubs shortstop of the future. Having scouted both Baez and Russell, Russell is the better defensive shortstop. And with Phillies senior adviser Charlie Manuel scouting Russell during the season’s final series, might he be on the move again as a key piece in a Cole Hamels deal?
Tool Present Future Projected Role All-Star Shortstop Hitting Ability 40 50 Power 45 60 Speed 50 45 Fielding Ability 45 55 Arm 60 60
Owning Addison Russell
Is it just me, or does Russell’s all-around game project to resemble the player Nationals Ian Desmond is now? Desmond was a $22 shortstop in 2013, good for #1 at the position with Brewers Jean Segura. This bodes well for Russell as he continues to add the finishing touches to a strong all-around game. Unfortunately, Addison Russell will be close to untouchable in dynasty fantasy baseball leagues after being dealt. Admittedly, it’s difficult to blame an excited owner as the shortstop is destined to be a top-5 prospect in all of baseball. Just remember, Russell isn’t expected to be as good a player in 2015 as Starlin Castro is now. This means the incumbent shortstop will have to be pushed off the mountain.
22 Sep 2014 / Chris Blessing /
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