In about two weeks, Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell will celebrate his 23rd birthday.
When he was 22, reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant was in his first full minor league season.
When he was 22, stud first baseman Anthony Rizzo was scuffling through his first partial big league season with the Padres.
When he was 22, super utility man Ben Zobrist was an infielder at Dallas Baptist University, and would not become an everyday player in the big leagues for six more years.
I could go on. Suffice it to say, Addison Russell is uniquely precocious on this Chicago Cubs team. And, through two seasons at ages 21 and 22, Russell has put himself in elite company.
Consider this: among all big league shortstops in the last 50 years, only eight have posted a higher WAR through their age 22 season than Russell’s 6.9. And Russell did it in fewer games than all but two of them.
The list of eight names, starting at the top, is extremely impressive: Alex Rodriguez (20.8 WAR), Cal Ripken Jr. (12.6), Francisco Lindor (10.8), Elvis Andrus (9.3), Robin Yount (8.7), Carlos Correa (8.3), Chris Speier (8.3), and Starlin Castro (7.7).
Three clear Hall of Fame caliber performers and two other current young studs in that group of eight. Andrus fell off in WAR when his defense took a hit in his mid-20s (immediately upon signing a monster extension), Speier sort of had one enormous year at age 22 and never really took off after that, and you know the story with Castro.
(It’s worth noting that, unlike many in this group with summer birthdays, Russell was actually 22 for his entire “age 22” season.)
None of this guarantees future success for Russell, though we could certainly point to marked progress in his overall game from 2015 to 2016, and scouts would agree that there’s plenty more potential in the bat. But the fact that he’s already been so valuable for the Cubs at such a young age – it’s not something you see very often.