I find that each offseason develops a handful of thematic discussions, which become crystalized by the time Opening Day rolls around. Some of them prove prescient (the flattening of Kris Bryant’s swing last year could produce more contact without sacrificing power), while others evaporate when the rubber meets the road (all those Super Utility Pitchers).
One that will hopefully manifest itself when the season rolls around is the coming power surge from Addison Russell. We’ve discussed it a few times now, and his deep shots this Spring aren’t slowing the conversation. Russell, his teammates, and Joe Maddon discuss his power surge this spring and what could come next here and here.
It’s not as if Russell is just now developing power potential. While he was not known strictly as a “power” guy in his brief time as a Cubs prospect, that was mostly because he was surrounded by guys who were extremely known for their power (Bryant, Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber). Russell was getting prospecting love for his power potential when he was still with the A’s,
Calling for a Russell power breakout now is kind of cheating anyway, because the power started manifesting itself already in the second half of 2016. Consider that the only Cubs regulars with a higher isolated power (ISO) than Russell’s .197 in the second half last year were Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. (Heck, his .179 mark for the year was also behind only those two among the regulars who were up the whole year.) Only Corey Seager had a higher ISO than Russell’s second half figure among all full-time shortstops.
Jeff Sullivan started noticing swing changes (and attendant production changes) back in August, if you want confirmation that there is an actual process unfolding here, where more and more of the power potential is becoming untapped (rather than just a flukey second-half happenstance). Russell may not quite reach the Bryant/Rizzo/Schwarber level of power, but a hitter just as feared in the middle of the lineup? That is absolutely possible.
What’s most impressive about what Russell did to improve his power in the second half last year is that it didn’t come at the expense of his also-improving contact skills. In fact, while Russell was popping his ISO by 42 points in the second half, he was also cutting his strikeout rate by 4.5 percentage points. That combination is a rare thing, and it suggests big, big things in Russell’s future.
Also: he just turned 23 in January.
Also: he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.