Addison, meet Clark: Cubs’ No. 2 prospect Russell to debut Tuesday
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PITTSBURGH — Four days after the celebrated arrival of top prospect Kris Bryant, the Cubs will add No. 2 prospect Addison Russell on Tuesday to fill their vast hole at second base.
Multiple sources confirmed Monday night that Russell, the shortstop prospect who has spent the last week playing second base, will be called up for his major-league debut against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon hinted at the possibility before the team’s 5-2 victory Monday against the Pirates at PNC Park.
“You could surmise that there’s potential he might do that,” Maddon said about a quick debut for Russell after he played his last six games at a position of need for the Cubs.
The team was getting the worst production from second base in the majors two weeks into the season, ranking last in slugging percentage (.135) and on-base percentage-plus-slugging percentage (.355), second-to-last in batting average (.135) and third-to-last in on-base percentage (.220).
Jonathan Herrera, who played second base Monday, singled in four at-bats. Arismendy Alcantara, who’s just 2-for-26, will be optioned to AAA Iowa to make room for Russell.
“Everybody’s always fixated on hits,” Maddon said. “I’m fixated on defense and pitching.”
Clearly, nobody playing second for the Cubs is fixated on hits or anything else involving a bat.
Russell not only has a right-handed bat the club considers ready for the majors, which Maddon acknowledged, but he also was the Cubs’ best infielder in camp.
Before the Athletics traded Russell to the Cubs last July in a deal for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the A’s projected him to be their Opening Day shortstop this season.
When the Cubs cut Russell from big-league camp, he had performed so well that Maddon said, “I couldn’t tell him what to work on. He’s that accomplished at that age.”
Russell played second base in both games of a doubleheader Monday, breaking up former big-leaguer Scott Baker’s perfect game in the
final inning of the opener and hitting a pair of doubles in the nightcap. In 11 games, he hit .318 with five extra-base hits and nine RBI.
The Cubs face lefty starters in two of the next three games in Pittsburgh. They’ll see the Pirates for three more games next week at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs’ 2-6 spots in the order combined for 12 hits in the victory, including three from Bryant in the cleanup spot. He also had three RBI.
Russell could slot naturally in a less intense spot lower in the order.
“Right now I think [shortstop] Starlin [Castro] is playing really well,” Maddon said, “so you need to keep a young player coming up that you think his bat may be ready to play here, you’ve got to give him a position to play.”
Castro underscored that point with a diving play to his left to rob Josh Harrison of a hit leading off the first inning in an especially impressive game in the field that drew raves from his manager and starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
Javy Baez, who finished last season as the Cubs’ second baseman and was to open this season there for Iowa, still hasn’t returned from bereavement leave after the death of his sister and has yet to play a game. He is expected to get some game action at extended spring training in Arizona before joining Iowa.