Should you read anything into the Cubs having Addison Russell play second base in the Arizona Fall League this week?
Nah, not really.
We all were fully aware when the Cubs acquired the top-10 shortstop prospect from Oakland that there would be questions regarding not only where he would play, but who would play shortstop for the Cubs in the long-view terms of “The Plan.” The Cubs knew it too, as they contacted Starlin Castro’s camp almost immediately upon making the deal in order to assure their current shortstop the move wasn’t designed to replace him.
Theo Epstein layed out the plan to move Russell around at his end-of-the-season presser, but it always makes some waves when a move like this is made. We have visited, revisited, and then visited this topic again. However, I just can’t seem to mentally let go of this potential Cubs positional drama.
Now the Cubs front office doesn’t quite view it in those terms, but I kind of liken the dilemma to a shortstop-centric version of “The Bachelor.” Who will get the shortstop rose? I don’t think the Cubs have made their decision yet, and they simply don’t have to as of now.
I was reminded once again yesterday by an AL scout that it’s all about flexibility and hedging your bets. Not all of the Cubs talent will develop into actual “players.” The Cubs will want to get their best players all on the same field somehow. They will have several options too, which includes a multiple All-Star shortstop already on the roster. All three of Russell, Castro, and Javy Baez can potentially play in the same infield, if Kris Bryant is moved to the outfield.
To even suggest there could be a logjam is really getting ahead of ourselves here as well; the talent development will likely dictate the moves. For there to be an actual decision needed, a scenario to be faced, well that would require Baez to prove he is a major-league player first, let alone a major factor moving forward. I’m told the Cubs won’t even entertain the idea of moving anyone around or out until Baez eases their logical concerns.
Back to Russell; it would seem that he represents the Cubs’ biggest movable asset. I recently touched on Bryant being about as untouchable as it gets for this organization. Apparently, there has also been some internal discussion that the Cubs realize Russell holds the inviation to the bargaining table regarding a top pitcher or an impact bat like a Ginacarlo Stanton, if he were to be made available.
There simply aren’t top-10 shortstops available these days and Russell is viewed around the game as a potentially special player. When you talk to industry people, they just gush about Russell’s makeup in addition to his ability. Pretty much the same things you hear when the Cubs other top prospect, Bryant, is discussed.
If you’re the Cubs, do you really want to part with someone like that?
For me, the answer is a simple no. You find a way to hang onto players like him. Former Cubs GM Dallas Green used to talk about “first division ballplayers.” Those were players who possessed an intangible edge. Players who were beyond talented, they also brought a winning persona out onto the field, helped you win in other ways. Everything you hear about Russell screams first division ballplayer.
When you envision a future in which the Cubs are playing winning baseball, it’s very easy to see Addison Russell as a big part of the team. I just see him as being “big time stuff”, Dodge Stratus and all.
And just as you would suspect, Russell is taking the moving around like a professional, as he demonstrated in speaking about his versatility with Carrie Muskat.
“It’s something I don’t mind, it’s something I’m really interested in learning,” Russell said of second base last week. “I’ll be able to put that on my resume. It’ll be better for me in the long run — I’ll be more versatile and have more experience on both sides of second base.”
As for growing out of shortstop and into third base, as some industry people predict:
“I really don’t think I’m going to get any taller,” said Russell, who stands an even six feet. “My shoulders will get broader and then I’ll get heavier. [My weight] is something I have to be cautious about — and be cautious of my workouts and make sure I get my work in.
“I thought I had more athletic ability to be at third and at short as well. Once I was that big, people moved me over to third, and I really didn’t like that. So I took it upon myself to lose that weight.”
The AL evaluator tells me Russell’s frame is just fine both for now and in the future to play shortstop. In his opinion, it won’t prevent Ruseell from excelling at an up-the-middle position. What he described is a highly instinctual player with quick feet.
“I’d love to stay at short,” Russell said. “I think I could play a lot of years there. I think I have good athletic ability, a strong arm, a good mentality at that position. I’d love to stay there.”
I’d love for him to stay here, period. No matter which position it is.