The Chicago Cubs are promoting shortstop prospect Addisson Russell, acquired from the Oakland A’s last summer in a deal that netted them right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Samardzija is now the Chicago White Sox’s number two starter, while Russell is being brought up to play second base at Wrigley Field.
Russell is ranked highly as a shortstop, but he’s currently blocked by incumbentStarlin Castro, a 25-year-old shortstop currently slashing .327/.353/.408.
Russell wasn’t expected to reach the majors so quickly. He only has 63 games under his belt at Double-A and less than 10 games at Triple-A. The Cubs have seen his production there as proof that he’s ready for MLB pitching, and their current situation on the big club surely sped the process along.
In his 50 games with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate last year Russell hit .294 with 12 home runs, 36 RBI and two stolen bases. He flashed more speed in 2013 in High-A with Oakland’s squad, swiping 21 bags while being caught just three times.
The Cubs will expect the speed to come back, but power’s been more Russell’s bag of late. He slugged .500 or better at both Double-A stops last year, and has already homered in Triple-A in 2015.
Russell projects as a 20-home run, 20-stolen base player with upside for much more, but in Year 1 those are lofty expectations. Just because a prospect has a world of talent, that doesn’t always translate into a Mike Trout-esque start to a career. An example is George Springer, who was called up and immediately expected to bomb home runs. He finished the season with 20 homers, but hit just .231 and struggled with strikeouts.
So far Russell hasn’t struggled as much with strikeouts. He’ll be able to make contact, but expecting more than 10-12 home runs as a 21-year-old rookie is unwise. Should he find holes in defenses and register a high-BABIP an average in the .280-.300 range is plausible. If he can develop his batting eye and walk more, the stolen bases will shoot up too.
Picking up Russell in re-draft leagues is smart, but owners shouldn’t feel too down if they miss out. In keeper leagues, he’ll be far more valuable and should be made a priority. He has 20-20 upside or greater and carries eligibility at second base and shortstop, two positions without a ton of depth or elite talent.
Bear in mind that Russell could be sent back down if he struggles badly. He likely could use more seasoning, and if Javier Baez starts hitting then he could be brought up for Russell and slotted right in there at second as well.