Russell looks like mainstay for Chicago Cubs at shortstop

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Fans wait for an autograph from Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell before a spring baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Mesa, Ariz., Friday, March 4, 2016.

    Fans wait for an autograph from Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell before a spring baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Mesa, Ariz., Friday, March 4, 2016.

 
 
Updated 3/7/2016 10:02 PM

For a guy who played much of last year out of position, the Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell looked good.

Now settled in his natural place at shortstop, there are those who think the ceiling is unlimited for this 22-year-old.

 

Russell came up last April and played second because Starlin Castro was the mainstay at short. But after Castro slumped at midseason and was benched, Russell moved over and wasn't moved out until a hamstring injury in the division series forced him out for the championship series.

Despite the injury, Russell reflects fondly on 2015.

"I felt pretty confident in my abilities of being able to switch to a different position," he said during the early days of camp in Mesa, Arizona. "That's what Joe (manager Maddon) felt, too. I got the call-up and produced, then went over to shortstop and did the same thing.

"So a pretty good year all around."

Maddon believes Russell can win a Gold Glove at shortstop as early as this season. The advanced-metrics people love everything about Russell's defense: his fielding ability, arm strength and range.

At the plate, Russell has showed promise, but he's a work in progress. Last year he put up a batting line of .242/.307/.389 with 13 homers and 54 RBI. The Cubs would love to see Russell improve his on-base percentage and walk rate of 8 percent.

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He struck out 149 times in 523 appearances for a strikeout rate of 28.5 percent, making him like other young hitters on the club.

But the biggest concern for Russell in the off-season was making sure his legs were good after injuring his left hamstring running out a triple in Game 3 of the NLDS.

"I pushed myself this year," he said. "I'm going to ask Bussie (strength coach Tim Buss) if he can push me a little bit this year as well so I keep that competitive edge and make sure my body's in shape.

"Strengthening itself, we're definitely working on more leg muscles and back muscles as well. Conditioning is going to take care of itself.

"You're grinding with these guys every single day and then you're presented with the opportunity of hopefully being able to go to the World Series and it being cut short by just an injury.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This year I've definitely taken more precautions in making sure my body's ready for a long season."

Like Castro before him, Russell is now a young veteran.

"I've got almost a full year under my belt," he said. "They're all great guys in this clubhouse, so it's easier stepping into the season."

Unlike Castro, who was traded to the Yankees, Russell came up in a winning environment. This off-season, they added Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, all of whom have played on winning teams in the past.

"It's a pretty cool thing," Russell said. "With KB (Kris Bryant) and (Kyle) Schwarber coming in, and myself and putting more pieces into it and young talent as well, with Zobrist, and Heyward only 26 years old, and Lackey. Those are three key guys."

It will be interesting to watch where Russell regularly hits in the batting order. Last year he started in the ninth spot of the order 116 times.

Maddon likes to hit the pitcher eighth and create more opportunities for the ninth hitter to set the table for the big guys. If it goes that way again, Russell is OK with it.

"Joe already basically knows how it's going to go down," he said. "We're just like puzzle pieces. He puts us in. The 9-hole was an adjustment last year.

"I was looking at footage. I'm trying to get better in the 9-hole this year. I'll be excited to be in the 9-hole. I'll be excited to be in the lineup like anyone would be. But the 9-hole is nice for me. If I move up in the lineup, we'll make those adjustments."

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