Folks: teach your children to throw with their left hand.

James Russell was a moderately successful minor league starter for a few years before breaking through last Spring Training as a reliever. In that role, he also found moderate success.

But he throws left-handed, and, because the Chicago Cubs don’t have another lefty option for the rotation, Russell is going to get a very real shot to bump a (possibly more deserving) righty out of the back-end of the Cubs’ rotation.

“I’m just working on fine-tuning my pitches now,” Russell said. “I’m working hard on my changeup because I will be using that a lot versus righties. I’m also trying to spot my slider on both sides of the plate and to fine-tune my curveball.”

The wide assortment of pitches will be necessary to move past the other five pitchers hoping to make the staff. All five of the other candidates are right-handed.

“That’s a big positive for me,” Russell said. “All teams want to have a lefty on their starting staff somewhere. I’m going to bust my butt and try to be that one lefty on ours.”

Of course the best scenario for Russell is winning the fifth spot outright. But if he makes progress and the Cubs decide to go with a veteran to start the season, he may have to pitch as a starter in the minor leagues.

“If that happens so be it,” Russell said. “I’ll just go there and beat the hell out of some Triple-A guys as I’m working my way back up to Chicago.” ESPN Chicago.

First things first: what an awesome attitude. A number of current and former Cubs could learn a thing or two from Russell, and reading quotes like this, it’s somewhat easier to understand why he was on an aggressive promotion schedule despite, as I said, only a modicum of success.

Secondly, it’s clear that the Cubs are going to give Russell every opportunity to win a rotation spot. You don’t convert a life-long starter into a reliever so that you can make room for him on the roster only to convert him back into a starter for the entirety of Spring Training (thus jacking up his adjustment to relieving) unless you really, really hope he makes it as a starter (much of this could be said for Andrew Cashner, of course).

If he doesn’t make the rotation, Russell’s just as likely to continue starting at AAA as he is to head to a very crowded bullpen (which might already have as many as three lefties in Sean Marshall, John Grabow, and Scott Maine) – Mike Quade has said that the decision about what to do with Russell if he doesn’t make the big league rotation will be a tough one, made not only by Quade but also by organizational guys. That, you’ll note, suggests either that Quade isn’t sold on Russell as a reliever – otherwise, he’d say “well sure, if he doesn’t make the rotation, he’ll be in my bullpen” – or that Quade has already been told by the organizational guys that they want Russell to be a starter regardless of where he’s starting.

Whatever the outcome, the Cubs aren’t just seeing what Russell can do. They very much hope he grabs a rotation spot – so don’t be surprised if he does just that, even if his Spring performance isn’t quite as impressive as some others.

  • Hogan

    I’m interested to see how much say Riggins will get in the decision, but totally agree with you on teh attitude, there was a quote from him just before spring training that conveyed the same work ethic and positive spin. I hope he does succeed, but I feel that we have better right handed options for the rotation (Wells and Cashner get 4 and 5 imho, unless Silva looks as good as he did to start last season). However, last year Marshall was the best starter in the spring, got put in the pullpen, and that move turned out, sooo…

  • Bric

    I’m just throwing this out there, but I’d still like to see the Cubs get back to talking to the Rangers about Young. I’d give them Sori, Byrd, Samardjia, and Vitters for Young, Davis, and Derrick Holland. Wash the money and contracts out so that we’re not paying any more than what we would be now. Even give them a discount on Sori’s last year similar to what the Mariners did with Silva (or throw in Silva at a discount if they would take him). It would clear up a lot of bad blood, contracts, and lost expectations on both teams. Addition by subtraction.

    I know most people will say that automatically leaves an all lefty outfield and puts huge pressure on Jackson to make the team in ST. But Holland would be the answer as a lefty starter, Davis, Vitters, and Shark (all young) will get a change of scenery, and Young becomes the new face of the Ricketts era. I’d rather have a full roster of Reed Johnsons than Sori’s anyway. His contract is like a credit card debt. Annoying, not worth it, and always there. The worst thing is the more you ingore it, the bigger the problem gets.

  • Jeff

    I really don’t want to say I’m rooting against any Cub, especially one with the kind of attitude that Russell has, but I haven’t seen anything from him that would make me want to move Cashner or Randy Wells out of the rotation. I might prefer Russell over Carlos Silva, but that would mean that Silva has turded out and won’t be making any contributions in exchange for that big fat paycheck he is getting. Aside from Philly, I don’t see a whole lot of teams in the NL that are loaded with lefty hitters. I have always held the belief that a solid lefty reliever that allows you to play to matchups is better than having a lefty starter one out of five games when teams can game plan and adjust lineups for your lefty in advance.