Addison Russell: Mr. Most Improved for 2016

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Russell 73On Friday, Addison Russell cranked a two run homer. I think you need to get used to hearing/seeing that. While some writers focus on the power of Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, and Baez, don’t sleep on Addison Russell. Russell is likely the most underrated player on the Cubs in 2016. And, he may be, in my opinion, the most improved Cub.

Here Is Why…
1. Health
When Russell switched to shortstop in the middle of last year, I think the team really took off. First his defense solidified the middle of the infield. Russell, while an outstanding second baseman defensively, never really had a lot of experience at the position. Shortstop is his natural home. I think Russell’s ability to play the position, and the range he has at the position, allows other position players to relax because Russell can get to balls they can’t. Russell covers so much ground that he takes pressure off of four other players: Bryant, Zobrist, Fowler, and whoever is in left field. Take a look at his ability to get to the ball in this map from Fangraphs.

ar1

His ability to get to balls deep in the outfield has to be comforting to other position players, but also pitchers knowing you have that guy backing you up.

To show you what a great athlete is, the second map shows his range at second base, a position he learned on the fly in 2016.

ar2

By the end of the year, don’t be surprised if Russell has himself his very first Gold Glove at shortstop.

2. Comfort
I think Russell’s bat will also improve dramatically in 2016. Well Russell only hit .242 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs in 2016, remember that he was also learning a new position on the fly. I think he’s relaxed now that he’s back in his natural home, shortstop. We will see more at bats like we did in this homerun from Friday’s win. See the homer here.

I think being a professional baseball player in the major leagues at 21 years old is quite an overwhelming experience. Throw in the fact that Russell also has two young children in early age, he’s probably more mature than you think. From what I’ve seen in spring training video on Comcast Sportsnet, Russell looks extremely comfortable at the plate this year. He looks to have a better idea of what he is looking for in a pitch. Even though he will be the number nine hitter, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing just exactly what his role will be in the lineup.

3. Twenty-Two
On January 23rd, Russell turned 22 years old. While he is still a very young player, his career is just beginning. Manager Joe Maddon talked about the expectations The Cubs have for Addison this year and the differences he has already seen and heard:

“When I stand behind the cage and I watch him, two things stand out – how big and strong his hands are and then when he hits the ball, it makes a different sound. So as he gets more acclimated to the major-league game, contact’s going to be more consistent and more consistently hard. The improvements on defense are going to be more subtle. The improvements offensively are going to be more dramatic.”

When he gets right down to it, Russell is going to surprise many with his offensive skills this year. It is not out of the realm of possibility for him to hit .280 with 20 homeruns and 70 RBIs this year from the number nine hole. In watching him at the plate Friday,you can just tell that this year is going to be his year. He already looks locked in after two games.

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