So much for waiting till next year…
The Chicago Cubs threw caution to the winds blowing in off the lake this week by promoting No. 2 prospect Addison Russell, who made his major league debut in Pittsburgh last night at second base, going 0-5 in a 9-8 Cubs’ win.
The 21-year-old’s call-up comes less than a week after the team brought up top prospect Kris Bryant, who has so far lived up to all the hype, batting .444 with a .583 OBP and 6 RBI in his first five games.
The Cubs are hoping that Bryant’s early success carries over to Russell as they look to add some extra pop to their lineup from the second base position that currently ranks dead last in the major leagues in slugging percentage, second-to-last in batting average, and third-to-last in on-base percentage. The team optioned Arismendy Alcantara, who has platooned at second with Jonathan Herrera, to AAA Iowa to make room for Russell.
Most of those who follow the Cubs didn’t expect to see Russell in a Cubs’ uniform until much later in the season if not next year. But the combination of Alcantara’s struggles at the plate (.077 BA) and the absence of Javier Baez (on extended bereavement leave in the wake of his sister’s death) forced the team’s hand. That and Russell’s strong performance in his short stint at AAA Iowa, where he batted .318 in 44 plate appearances.
The conventional wisdom since the start of the season was that the Cubs would be taking a slow approach with their talented crop of youngsters – a perception that seemed to be validated when the team sent Bryant down to the minors despite his eye-popping offensive show in spring training.
But two weeks into the season, with the Cubs sitting in second place in the NL East with a 7-5 record and Bryant looking like he’ll be hanging around at third base for a long time, the team seems to be shifting gears from win-later to win-now.
Tom Ley, writing for Deadspin, called Russell’s promotion “a pretty clear signal that the Cubs are trying to win right now,” stating that his addition gives the team “a lineup that stacks up as perhaps the most dangerous in the division.”
So what can Cubs’ fans expect to see with Russell on the big league team? Well, it’s always shaky business trying to measure whether minor league success will carry over to the major league level. But it’s also a relatively safe bet that the Cubs wouldn’t be making this move with Russell now if they weren’t pretty sure he was ready.
Acquired from the Oakland Athletics mid-season last year in a trade for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Russell was drafted out of high school by the A’s with the 11th overall pick in 2012. Russell rose through the minor leagues at an accelerated pace, proving himself to be an extraordinary talent, both with the glove and with the bat, at each and every level. Following his 2014 minor league season, in which he hit .295 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI over 258 at-bats between three minor league teams, split between the Athletics and the Cubs, Baseball America ranked him the No. 3 overall prospect.
Russell’s natural position is shortstop, where he played all through the minors until his last few games at AAA Iowa when the Cubs started transitioning him to second base, his clearest path to the big league club with three-time All-Star Starlin Castro seemingly entrenched at shortstop.
SB Nation’s Jason Hunt projects Russell to be a “high-average hitter with an excellent power-speed combination” who should get a lot of attention in fantasy drafts. “A .290/.380/.500 slash line with 20-25 home runs, 15-20 steals, 90+ runs and 90+ RBI is definitely within the range of possibility from Russell, with him potentially being a top 5 option at any of shortstop, second base, third base, or even the outfield,” Hunt wrote.
If the projections prove true, look for Russell to be calling Wrigley Field home for a long time to come. Perhaps the ballpark’s address will be changed to 1060 West Addison Russell Street.