Perhaps the best part about the talent on this particular Cubs team is its unbridled youth.
Even after enormous breakout seasons from guys like Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and even Kyle Hendricks, we get to look forward to potential breakouts from other guys like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Addison Russell*.
The latter, though, has been drawing an immense amount of praise from coaches, players and front office executives already this Spring.
After an impressive rookie season in the field, Russell looks ready to breakout on offense, as well. Or, should I say, continue his breakout from last season.
For the most part, the projection systems are remaining lukewarm on Russell, projecting modest increases in most statistics, but the FanGraphs fan projected system is expecting much bigger things: .263/.334/.430 with 16 HRs and 4.7 WAR. If he comes close to reaching those numbers, the Cubs will have quite the embarrassment of riches (and I don’t use that lightly).
But here’s the thing: he doesn’t have to come close to those numbers to be an extraordinarily valuable part of the team. Even with the relatively mediocre offense last season, Russell was a 3 win player in just 142 games. Given a full season of chances with more experience under his belt, Russell has an outside shot of being a 3.5-4 win player based on his defense alone. But if you can believe it, even that is apparently getting better.
- “It’s unbelievable what he’s becoming,” says David Ross.
- “His first step quickness is as good as you’ll see,” says bench coach Dave Martinez.
- “That first step, is so incredibly quick he has to be close to the best shortstop in the league defensively. And he’s going hit,” says GM Jed Hoyer.
Addison Russell is improving on defense, and there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t. At just 21 years old, he was like a vacuum at shortstop after spending the first half of the season learning second base on the fly. Once he made the switch back to short, though, it was clear that he could be truly elite in that role.
The metrics, although in samples small enough that you don’t want to draw too many conclusions just yet (especially with advanced defensive metrics), matched what the eye test was telling us about Russsell at shortstop.
His UZR/150 (20.4) in 2015 was second best in baseball, ahead of guys like Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons, and his DRS (10) was tied for fourth most, despite splitting time between two positions (this is counting only the runs he saved at SS, which contained far fewer opportunities than his counterparts around the league). It’s difficult to imagine what a defensive breakout for a guy like Russell would look like, but I’m guessing Cubs pitchers are happy to have him.
So, while you’re daydreaming at the office about the potential for players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward, remember: Addison Russell is firmly in their tier and has a chance to begin reaching that potential in just three weeks.
*And none of that is to mention guys knocking on the door at AAA Iowa, like Albert Almora, Willson Contreras and Jeimer Candelario.