Russell confident health will lead to breakout '18

Cubs shortstop happy to remain with club after offseason trade rumors

February 17th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- heard the rumors. He knew the Cubs needed more pitching after the 2017 season and that there was a possibility one of the young position players might be traded.

On Saturday, Russell was right where he wanted to be, taking ground balls at the Cubs' Spring Training complex next to third baseman .

"The core is still here -- who would want to break that up? It's a beautiful thing," Russell said of , Bryant, , and . "It's really hard to break that up. When you do break it down on paper, we have a lineup that can stack up with the best of them."

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It's a lineup that won a World Series in 2016, and is now two years older. Was it important to keep the group together?

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"I think it's very important, it's significant, just because we are the same age, just because we've had that experience with each other," Russell said. "We've won a World Series, and we push each other, too. Having that familiarity is key to a clubhouse setting. These guys are competitors, and they push me to be a better player. We push each other to be better teammates, as well."

Russell, 24, is eager to put last year behind him. He was limited to 110 games because of injuries, batted .239 and hit 12 home runs with 43 RBIs after belting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs in 2016. The young infielder is motivated this year.

"Absolutely, especially after the injuries," Russell said. "I wanted to showcase more of my talent last year than I displayed. Going into this year, it's just staying level headed and staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field."

What may be key is Russell's right shoulder. He added a throwing program this offseason to strengthen it, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon is convinced that if the shortstop doesn't have to worry about his shoulder, it will have a positive effect.

"It really comes down to arm strength on a consistent basis," Maddon said. "If you can imagine, when a guy doesn't make mistakes throwing a baseball and he's more accurate because he's stronger, the rest of his game becomes better because he doesn't worry about it any more. I think a part of when guys struggle in a particular area of their game, it's because they are concerned about something else. When he becomes solid with his throwing, the rest of his game takes off."

Anyone who has watched Russell throw the ball to Rizzo at first base has seen the power in the shortstop's arm.

"It was just about having my arm be more durable," Russell said. "The next step for me is really staying on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I stay for a full season. I think if I stay out there on the field, I'm going to produce."

Russell was an All-Star in 2016 and starred on the Cubs' World Series championship team that season. Last year wasn't as enjoyable.

"You can't take anything for granted," Russell said. "You win a World Series or do something great, you have to live in the moment. In lieu of that, it was a tough season last year. ... I know guys are ready to get back at it."

Could this be the year Russell wins a Gold Glove Award?

"Absolutely," Maddon said. "He doesn't make mistakes physically as he goes after a ball, how his feet work. He plays through the ball really well and turns a double play well."

And Russell is happy to do that with the Cubs.

"My initial thoughts [after hearing the trade talk] was that I hope it doesn't happen," Russell said. "I'm happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform for sure."