Russell's rise to Cubs a wild ride
Part of club's youth movement, 21-year-old showing moves at new position
"It's crazy," is how Addison Russell describes it.
Three years ago this weekend, Russell donned a suit and tie, and now he's suited up in a Chicago Cubs uniform.
Back at Russell's alma mater -- Pace High School in Milton, Fla. -- prom was this Saturday night.
That wasn't so long ago for Russell, who is 21 and the youngest player in the National League (the second youngest in the Majors behind Toronto's Roberto Osuna, who is all of 20 years old).
"I am young," Russell said. "But I believe that I have a lot to bring to the plate, especially defensive-wise and then offensively. I've worked my whole entire life to get to this point right now, and I'm enjoying every bit of it."
Russell isn't alone, though. The Cubs' clubhouse is chock-full of youngsters, and Russell spent Saturday's rain delay bonding with all of them -- Anthony Rizzo took the chance to gather Russell, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler for a "25-and-under" team selfie.
"We definitely use that time to bond and come closer," Russell said. "[Bryant] and I, I think we have a pretty good relationship, and [I have] a good relationship with Rizzo -- I'm also talking to Rizzo more -- so yeah, I can kind of see how everything's kind of coming together.
"We have young guys, but we have young guys that can perform. And that's pretty cool because all of us young guys can relate to each other. We just kind of go about our business the same way."
Russell has benefitted, too, from the hype surrounding fellow callup Bryant. The media craze that followed Bryant's much-anticipated debut allowed Russell to escape under the radar.
Cubs third-base and infield coach Gary Jones thinks Russell, a phenom in his own right who was ranked as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect after headlining the "other side" of the late-summer Jeff Samardzija deal, may deserve a bit more of that attention.
"Overall, he's a very good ballplayer. He came to us highly touted in the trade for Samardzija," Jones said. "My first impression of him was, 'Wow, this guy's going to be a really good player,' from the first time I hit him ground balls in Spring Training. The way he went about his work, his business, his work habits. He's fundamentally sound and he's a good athlete. Those things, those intangibles really jumped out at me right away."
It can't be easy for Russell, who is adjusting to a new position.
"The thing guys have to be aware of when they switch from shortstop to second base, going from the left side of the infield to the right -- for me, it's about different angles, footwork around second base," Jones said. "Because at shortstop, you see the runner coming at all times from first base, whereas second base, you have your back to the runner or you don't see him well. So that in itself is the biggest adjustment around the bag for young players to make sure, really, to be safe and don't get injured around the bag.
"But when you're a good athlete like he is, it makes all those adjustments easier. He could probably go out there and play any position we put him at, to be honest with you, because of his athleticism and intelligence. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to make a successful adjustment to second base if that's what the club decides to do, is keep him at that position."
Russell said it's the "small jobs" at second that are hardest to adjust to.
"If the third baseman gets the ball, I have to back up first base, just in case there's a wild throw," Russell said. "Just small things like that that could turn a game around in an instant that I have to keep going through my mind. Especially something that's new is the bunt plays, I have to cover first. Or even if it's a push bunt, I have to come in and get the ball, so that's something new. And turning the double plays and all that stuff's new, and it's just something I'm working on daily and trying to get better at."
Getting only five games of work in at second base at Triple-A Iowa before being called up, Russell is already turning in web gems from his new station in the middle of the diamond. His bat had been a bit of a concern in his first few games, but Russell quashed those worries with a three-run double Sunday.
For many, watching Russell play conjures up images of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin.
"That was my first impression of him when I first saw him in Spring Training was, 'Oh, this is Barry Larkin in the making all over again,'" Jones said. "I mean, it's very unfair to compare him to Barry Larkin, because Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer and this kid is just getting his career started, but at that young age, people who saw Barry Larkin at that age, that's what kind of jumps out at me."
Fittingly, Larkin was in Cincinnati this weekend as the Reds commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1990 "Wire-to-Wire" championship club. Of course, a meeting with Russell had to be arranged.
"[Larkin's] kind of a guy I've kind of looked up to when I was growing up, and it's pretty cool to hear people compare me to him. It's kind of flattering," Russell said.
Not bad for a kid who was dancing the night away at his senior prom three years back.
"Three years ago, I was going to that prom," said Russell, "and now I'm on this big stage. It's more than what I asked for, but it's exactly what I worked my butt off for."