Addison Russell made his MLB debut at 21 years of age in 2015. Now, just 22, he's begun to develop into an all-around essential player for the Chicago Cubs.
We know about Jason Heyward. We know about Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist. Jake Arrieta is out-of-this-world good. The Chicago Cubs enter Saturday 29-11. Among the best starts in franchise history; the best start by far from a team I've followed throughout my 27 years.
As exciting as this team is, and as good as the aforementioned players are, and the rest of the not-mentioned players, there's one that sticks out to me. He came onto the scene last season after the heralded promotion of would-be Rookie of the Year winner Kris Bryant. Though this player might not have come in with the same nationwide-acclaim, he was still a top prospect to be reckoned with.
I'm sure you know by now I'm referring to shortstop Addison Russell.
Russell has been nothing short of extraordinary manning the 6-spot of the Cubs defense. He made his MLB debut at 21-years of age in 2015. Now just 22, he's begun to develop even more as a hitter, but also as a player.
The six-foot, 200lb Russell might not seem like the kind of player that would be a force with the bat. His .242 batting average in 2015 is rather pedestrian, however, his 13 home runs and 54 RBI only begin to tell the story of what kind of hitter, and more importantly, what kind of player Russell can be, both for himself and what he means to the Chicago Cubs.
Through the first 40 games and 29 wins of 2016, Russell has made his presence known in the batter's box. He's hitting .246, though his on-base percentage is .353, 46 points higher than his 2015 totals, and his slugging has shown dramatic improvement, sitting at a lofty .415.
Yes, it's early but he's already showing tremendous growth.
Russell is the kind of exciting, underrated player; a hard-nosed gamer. Every team needs one of those guys, and the sky's the limit for the young 22-year-old. It may or may not even surprise you that Russell is currently fourth on the Cubs in RBI with 28. Just one behind new-Cub Ben Zobrist, and six off the team-lead.
When the Cubs were dealt the blow of not having Russell occupy short for them last postseason against the New York Mets in the NLCS, I believe that, in itself, was enough to derail the Cubs. Now, they're more than one guy. They still have their top home run hitters in Bryant and Rizzo. Javier Baez, a formidable player in his own right, was coming off the bench cold and trying to survive under the big lights of the NLCS.
Russell can be that game changer.
Maybe the Cubs are still swept even with Russell in the lineup. The main point is Russell is already a big presence on the Cubs, and he's only getting better. The Cubs are only getting better.
For a team to be off to the kind of historical start that they are, boasting an MLB-best 113 team run differential, while also featuring an MLB-best team ERA of 2.64, there may not be one particular player on the team, outside of Jake Arrieta, who has shown his very best yet.
So back to Russell.
His 28 RBI is second among MLB shortstops. Trailing Colorado Rockies rookie revelation Trevor Story by three, Russell has also played four fewer games, had 38 fewer at-bats, and Story has 12 home runs to Russell's four. Russell has the advantage in the on-base percentage category: .353 vs .337.
The jury is still out on Story. The rest of the shortstops include Boston Red Sox' Xander Bogarts and San Francisco Giant' Brandon Crawford. Guys that have been around longer, and are solid, solid players. And that's not forgetting Troy Tulowitzki of the Toronto Blue Jays, who, despite the paltry .203 BA, still has eight home runs, 22 RBI.
Russell has shown in the early-going his knack for coming up big in key situations. A .333 hitter with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Russell is 5-15 with six RBI. He's shown the kind of defense teams need up the middle. Who can forget this play in a pivotal game last season against the St. Louis Cardinals to end the game?