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Grippin’ ‘n rippin’: Cubs’ Addison Russell ready to unleash power

Will the Cubs see more power from Addison Russell this year -- like this three-run shot against the Cardinals in September?

It took Joe Maddon exactly one word to sum up what he’s learned about Addison Russell since this time last year:

“Power,” the Cubs manager said. “I didn’t know he had the kind of power. You saw it last year during the season, and I’m watching him in batting practice right now. He’s really strong.”

Russell, the Cubs’ starting shortstop after breaking into the majors as their second baseman last year, finished his rookie season with 13 home runs.

More than half (7) came in the final two months of the season after incorporating a leg kick in midseason work with hitting coach John Mallee and getting more comfortable facing big-league pitching.

“I always knew I had a little bit of power,” said Russell, whose career high in the minors was 17 homers. “It’s just last year getting adjusted to the league, it’s really hard to do. It was really hard to tap into some of that power because I’m trying to track the ball.

“This year, with just under a year under my belt, I’m seeing the ball and lot better, and just doing my natural reaction. There’s really no timid-ness in my swing right now.

“I’m just grippin’ and rippin’ right now, and it feels good.”

Russell hit ninth in the Cubs batting order, behind the pitcher, most of last season as the Cubs tried to reduce pressure on the rookie while also viewing him as a “second leadoff” guy feeding into the top of the order.

If an increase in power production comes this year, it could change his fit in the lineup, not to mention create an elevated level of respect he’ll command from pitchers no matter where he hits.

And it wouldn’t take much of a jump in production to put him among the top power shortstops in the game. Only four shortstops in the National League last year hit more home runs than Russell’s 13, with the Giants’ Brandon Crawford leading the league at the position with 21.

Houston’s Carlos Correa led all shortstops in the majors with 22.

Russell said he didn’t do anything in the offseason to specifically increase his power. But teammates have noticed a difference in camp, even from the end of last season.

“The ball’s poppin’,” slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “I think there’s more there [than last season]. He’s made a couple adjustments. He’s getting separation. He’s driving the ball.

“It’ll be interesting to see how his transformation goes through the spring, but right now it looks really good.”