Before the 2015 season started, the Chicago Cubs mentioned that shortstop prospect Addison Russell would see some time at second base eventually. The implication was that he might flip flop with Javier Baez at short, increasing/preserving each of their versatility, and opening up future paths for each player.
On Friday, Russell started playing second base, and I wrote this: “I don’t want you to assume that the Russell move tonight is anything more than just working on his versatility – as the Cubs indicated was coming – but it’s something to watch. If, of course, Russell is playing second base for the I-Cubs virtually every day over the next 10 days? Well, then, that might be another story.”
Well, it might be another story.
Indeed, despite Iowa playing only a couple games since Friday, we know that Russell at second base is now a regular thing going forward. That’s because his manager, Marty Pevey, told Tommy Birch that Russell is a “full-time second baseman right now,” even if his abilities are that of a big-league-caliber shortstop. Further, Pevey today told Birch that Russell will continue playing second “until I’m told for him not to play second.”
In other words, Russell is now Iowa’s regular, full-time, starting second baseman, which was an organizational decision. That’s probably pretty meaningful.
If Russell were going to spend most of this season at AAA Iowa, with an eye toward a big league debut in, say, August or September, or even early next year, he’d still be playing shortstop. That’s not inside information, mind you. I’m just telling you what I can discern from the situation. There would be no reason to move Russell, in mid-April, full-time to second base – where there’s a glaring opening on the big league team – unless there was a possibility that he’s coming. Soon.
Whether this was always the plan or not for Russell, let’s consider some things:
- Russell looked very good in Spring Training. He looked mature, even at just 21. He looked smooth in the field, and he looked calm at the plate. When he was sent down, even Joe Maddon was at a loss for what to tell him to focus on before being up in the big leagues.
- Javier Baez did not win the big league second base job, and was sent to AAA Iowa to continue working on some significant changes to his approach at the plate. That was never likely to be two or three-week thing, and instead was probably more like a one or two-month thing. Then, sadly, Baez’s sister passed away, and he has been on the bereavement list since the start of the Iowa Cubs’ season. No one can know what Baez is going through, and no one should tell him how to grieve. Instead, I point this out solely to note that it’s unlikely that Baez will be in a position to come up and lock down the second base job any time soon.
- Tommy La Stella probably would have been getting the bulk of starts at second base right now – and maybe even showing that he could be a quality regular there for the 2015 season – but he hurt his side, and is on the disabled list.
- Arismendy Alcantara is having some serious trouble at the plate in the early going, and has already been relegated to a non-starting utility role.
- Jonathan Herrera does some things well for a 30-year-old utility man, but a starting second baseman on a team with playoff aspirations, he is not.
Add that all together, and you get a recipe for Russell to get a taste of the big leagues very soon. Again, I’m absolutely speculating on nothing more than the above, together with Russell’s move to second base at Iowa, but Russell coming up even as soon as late this week would not shock me.
Pre-season projections indicated that Russell could be a contributor at the big league level as soon as this year, and with the Cubs in that window where marginal wins are extremely valuable, it makes sense to get Russell up as soon as possible (assuming the Cubs believe he is ready, developmentally-speaking).
There are no real service time considerations with Russell – the extra year of control would already have been secured – and there’s no reason to be worried about Super Two, because Russell could make a real impact between now and mid-June. Super Two status is exclusively about money – the player gets a fourth crack at arbitration – and I really don’t see this front office risking months’ worth of critical games this year in the hopes of saving a few million dollars six years down the road.
So, again I say: if the front office believes Russell is ready to contribute at the big league level right now, then there’s very little reason he wouldn’t be up and starting at second base very soon. He may need some more time there at Iowa before that happens – maybe even a couple weeks playing second base – but it appears to be on the radar.
Add to all of that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, speaking on 670 the Score just a few minutes ago, mentioning that Russell was moved to second at AAA Iowa to give the Cubs “some optionality” given how things have been at second so far this year in the big leagues, and given how well Starlin Castro has been playing at shortstop. Hoyer didn’t offer up any kind of timeline, but he didn’t squash the idea that Russell could be the Cubs’ big league second baseman at some point in the near future.
As for what happens to Baez, Alcantara, and La Stella from there, you cross that bridge when you have to. Baez can play regular shortstop, which could be good for his value going forward. Alcantara could head back to Iowa and work on his swing while playing second base and in the outfield. La Stella could transition into a utility role, which might be where he provides the Cubs the most value anyway.
The Cubs are on the road through next Sunday, April 26. If the Cubs wish to debut Russell on the road, and it doesn’t come during this trip, then, we’d be looking at the week of May 4, when the Cubs head to St. Louis and then Milwaukee.
For now, Russell is hitting .297/.308/.432 through 9 games at AAA Iowa. With Bryant in the big leagues, Russell effectively becomes the best prospect in the Cubs’ system.