Profiling each Chicago Cubs player for 2017, we roll on from the World Series MVP to a player vying to be among NL MVP talk: Shortstop Addison Russell.
We discussed Ben Zobrist in the second week of our Spring Training tour, as we profile one Chicago Cub every Wednesday up until the season. Continuing around the infield, today we're discussing the MVP potential of shortstop Addison Russell.
Led NL SS -- 95 RBI
First Cub to hit World Series Grand Slam
Second-youngest player in MLB history, first SS, to hit World Series Grand Slam
What if I told you Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell led all NL shortstops with 95 RBI in 2016? And was just one off the MLB lead at the position?
Well, he did tie an MLB-record with his six-RBI performance in Game 6 of the World Series -- also setting a new career-high.
That's the kind of punch the 23-year-old, six-foot, 200 pound kid from Pensacola, FL packs. When you think of viable MVP candidates on the Cubs, and in all of baseball, you'll think of reigning MVP Kris Bryant naturally.
Anthony Rizzo is a fine candidate.
But is Russell primed for his biggest season to date?
Already entering his third year of MLB service time, and coming off a big year which saw him start his first All-Star game, and was a finalist for the gold glove, Russell looks to further solidify himself among the rest of baseball.
I wrote about Russell last May, considering him the X-factor for Chicago.
At the time he came off to me as a smooth operator, vacuuming up pretty much anything hit to him at short -- tied No. 1 among MLB SS in dWAR (2.7) in 2016 -- but also proving to be every bit as dangerous with a bat in his hands, especially in late-game situations.
- Ninth among NL, first among NL SS, with 27 RBI in scoring position, two outs.
- Forth among NL with 33 RBI in seventh inning or later.
- 15th among MLB, first among SS, with 33 RBI seventh inning or later.
In 2015 manager Joe Maddon was able to ease Russell into the lineup as the number nine hitter, giving the Cubs essentially two leadoff hitters, but also allowing Russell better pitches to see.
It looks to have paid off, as Russell upped nearly every major offensive category between 2015 and 2016:
- Games played (+9)
- At-Bats (+50)
- Runs (+7)
- Hits (+10)
- Total Bases (+34)
- Home runs (+8)
- RBI (+41)
- Walks (+13)
- Strikeouts (-14)
- OBP (+14)
- SLG (+28)
- OPS (+42)
Russell had a knack for driving in runs on the season, and would you know it, led the entire 2016 postseason with 13 driven in, including nine on the biggest stage, the Fall Classic. But that's just how he likes it.
He "wants" to be the guy.
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) February 21, 2017
"Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be on the big screen." -- Patrick Mooney, CSN Chicago
July 5, 2014
The Cubs had the worst record in the NL Central (38-46) on July 5, 2014 when they sent free agent-to-be Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics for a bundle including, at the time, the 11th overall rated prospect, and A's No. 1, Addison Russell.
Cubs President Theo Epstein provides the backstory behind that trade, and considering what we know now, the Cubs have to be feeling very fortunate for every significant aspect that played into the trade, most notably the A's feeling so good about their own World Series chances, that they had the guts to make such a move.
As the 2014 season turned towards 2015, much of the hype and storylines surrounded Bryant, and why not when you're considered the best prospect in baseball.
But Russell provided his own hype and anticipation as baseball's fourth best prospect, once Bryant was called up to the majors April 2015.
Cubs rookie 2B Addison Russell hits 1st career home run vs. Brewers. Russell was Keith Law's 4th overall prospect. pic.twitter.com/1L0WxeqkwJ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 1, 2015
And while his bat might have taken some time to get going, we saw right away how lethal of a defender he already was, and is, going to be.
More of the same in 2017 -- and More
Russell, already defensively elite, probably wouldn't surprise many with a gold glove in the near-future.
In just two seasons, and at the age of 23, this is the year where it's reasonable to expect him to start to fully put the whole package together. Which is obviously saying something considering everything we've just covered.
Though it might not look like it, the pop this man can deliver at any time should come as no surprise now -- seventh among SS with 21 homers in 2016.
He improved drastically upon his 2015 totals in 2016, and one has to figure that will only continue.
To see Russell up his average to the .250 mark for 2017 is understating the opinion that he will probably be hitting .270 and better as the years go on.
Could he even hit 30 home runs? Why not.
Remember when the Cubs, trailing the NLCS 2 games to 1, the moment looking too big for the majors best team, players struggling, including Russell, mired in a 1-24 slump, and yet Maddon kept his same group intact?
I remember baseball analysts and writers talking about it. I remember Joe saying how he's going to stick with the guys he trusts -- the group that got them there.
At the time Maddon had this to say about Russell:
"The All-Star Game appearance accelerated his confidence. Regardless of what happens right now, I don't think it's going to detract him next year. He's way too young and has so many adjustments to make over the next several years," via Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune.
Then you add what happened in the World Series. Nothing is going to seem too big after you've essentially won Game 6 with a grand slam.
He has confidence, but humility. He's battled through adversity, yet showcased his resiliency.
Considering the numbers, accolades and big-game heroics Russell has already delivered in his career, it's only appropriate that Addison Russell also took the last 4-pitch intentional walk.
Since the rest of baseball is beginning to learn how dangerous he can be on the biggest stage.
NEXT: Kris Bryant
Also published on Medium.