What a perfect time for the Chicago Cubs to promote Addison Russell.
Russell can slide in somewhat under the radar before the hoopla of Kris Bryant’s much-ballyhooed promotion has even died down.
Did you know, though, that Russell is even more highly regarded than Bryant in some circles? That kicks off these eight things to know about the new Cubs infielder.
1. Russell, 21, was a consensus top-five prospect entering the 2015 season, ranked third by Baseball America, fifth by MLB.com and second by Baseball Prospectus. Bryant, by comparison, was ranked first, second and fifth, respectively, by those organizations. Russell has been in the top 50 on all three rankings every year since 2013, and his stock has risen every year since.
2. Russell was drafted by the A’s with the 11th pick of the first round in the 2012 draft. He was regarded as the best prospect in the A’s organization the next summer after tearing up the low-level minor leagues. The Cubs acquired Russell on July 4, 2014, along with pitcher Dan Straily and outfield prospect Billy McKinney in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
3. Russell, who went to Pace High School in Florida, was committed to and signed with Auburn before being drafted by the A’s. It was a bit of a departure for Oakland and general manager Billy Beane to pluck from the high school ranks, which only highlights how highly he was regarded even then. He was the first high schooler taken by the A’s in the first round since 2001.
4. Russell’s career minor-league slash line is .301/.377/.520. Theo Epstein recently said that he doesn’t like to promote prospects until they “dominate” a level. Russell hit .318 with a .477 slugging percentage in his 11 games with Triple-A Iowa this season. He had four doubles, a homer and nine RBIs.
5. Russell led Pace High School to a Florida state baseball championship in 2010 — and a No. 1 national ranking — and a state runner-up finish in 2012.
6. Before Russell had even played a game of minor-league baseball he had collected a slew of awards, honors and achievements. Here is what the “notes” section of Russell’s ESPN recruiting profile looks like:
– Ranked No. 24 high school prospect by Perfect Game
– Ranked No. 18 high school prospect by Baseball America
– Played on Team USA Baseball 18U Gold Medal Winner
– 2011 Perfect Game Aflac All-American Game
– 2011 Louisville Slugger First Team All-American
– 2010 and 2011 Pensacola News Journal Hitter of the Year
– 2011 Pensacola News Journal Athlete of the Year
– 2010 and 2011 First Team 3A All-State
– 2010 UnderArmour All-American Game
– 2010 and 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase invitee
– East Coast Pro Showcase
Russell had a .358/.532/.815. slash line his senior year of high school. He hit over .500 in his sophomore and junior years.
7. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about Russell’s offense and ignored the defensive half of his game. Russell is considered above average at shortstop (even though he will play second base for the Cubs right now). Here’s what ESPN’s Keith Law said about Russell when he released his prospect rankings earlier this month:
Russell is a true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at short, whether it’s a tough ground ball or a quick transfer on a 4-6-3 double-play turn. His swing did get a little longer in 2014, producing more power but also more ground ball contact, as he would get on top of balls he didn’t square up. Russell always will face questions about his position because he’s not a runner, but his footwork is more than adequate, and he has the hands and arm to be above-average there. Shortstops with the potential to hit .300-plus with double-digit homers are rare commodities — Troy Tulowitzki was the only major leaguer to do it in 2014 — which makes Russell’s skill set extremely valuable.
8. Russell will give the Cubs an infield composed entirely of players 25 or under: Anthony Rizzo (25) at first, Russell (21) at second, Starlin Castro (25) at shortstop and Kris Bryant (23) at third.