As a student of the game, Chicago Cubs' Russell at top of the class
In his new book, "The Cubs Way," author Tom Verducci recounts a conversation between Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein and Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane in 2014.
At the time, the Cubs were shopping pitcher Jeff Samardzija and looking for young talent in return.
"I'm not sure you guys have enough, unless you want to talk about Addison Russell," Verducci recounts Epstein saying to Beane.
"We would consider that," Beane said to Epstein.
Verducci then writes: "The hair on Epstein's arms nearly stood on end."
It's easy now to see why.
At the tender age of 23, Russell already is one of the top shortstops in the game.
He made his first All-Star Game appearance last year, starting for the National League. He then went on to help the Cubs to a World Series title, hitting a grand slam, a double and driving in 6 runs in Game 6.
Yes, the Cubs got themselves a keeper when they obtained Russell in the final stages of their rebuilding process.
Equally impressive has been Russell's realistic assessment of his own game. Asked early in spring training where he'd like to improve, he addressed both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
"Backhands this year," he said of his fielding. "And then also just cutting down on strikeouts. We need to bring those walks up a little bit. I think 50 walks are nice, but you go back and look and see if those strikeouts were on those 3-2 counts. You could have that base, but you were too aggressive in that situation. If I cut those out, I think that will be progressing."
There is room for growth for Russell at the plate. Last season he compiled a line of .238/.321/.417 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI. He did manage to increase his walk rate, from 8 percent in 2015 to 9.2 percent last year. The strikeout rate dropped from 28.5 to 22.6.
Showing increased power potential, Russell's home-run-to-flyball ratio went from 9.8 to 14.2 percent.
The postseason was a roller coaster for Russell, who went 1-for-15 in the division series before going 6-for-22 with 2 homers in the NLCS and 6-for-27 with the grand slam and 9 RBI in the World Series.
With experience, there's good reason to believe Russell can smooth out the peaks and valleys.
"His game itself, we talked about every component, what needs to be improved," manager Joe Maddon said. "But he did it so well and in such a mature manner. Really, the sky is the limit. This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself, I think that's what's happening with a lot of our young guys.
"They're understanding themselves better. As they do, their games are going to continue to improve. With Addy, he could be an annual all-star, there's no question, and beyond. He's such a gifted athlete. He's just so quick. And he cares so much. And he's turned out to be such a good self-evaluator.
"All of those are components to creating a superstar in whether it's baseball or football or basketball."
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