Results tagged ‘ Addison Russell ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: What will the Cubs do with their surplus of shortstops?

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs may be only a brief stop away from their next destination. Or, perhaps, a shortstop. That is, if they are willing to trade one.

In his postseason address to season ticket holders, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said he expects the team to contend for a division title in 2015. And that was before marquee manager Joe Maddon first put on the pinstripes at the Cubby Bear.

With holes still to fill, the Cubs can’t stop short with their hiring of Maddon. In their quest to be the best, middle-infield depth could be the key to acquiring more pieces to the puzzle.

Since arriving in October 2011, Epstein and his front office mates have done a lot of heavy lifting to strengthen the organization—signing international free agents, making astute picks in the June amateur draft and trading for other teams’ top prospects. As a result, the Cubs’ system is rated among the consensus top three in the majors.

At this stage, moving surplus talent, notably at shortstop, could be vital to improving the major league product.

“I believe the Cubs potentially have three All-Stars in [Starlin] Castro, [Javier] Baez and [Addison] Russell,” said a top major league executive. “I watched Russell last year in the Arizona Fall League. This year in the minor leagues, he got a little thicker and stronger. This young man is going to be a fine hitter and could very well be an All-Star shortstop. I love his natural instincts. Nothing about his game is below average.”

The Cubs acquired Oakland’s top draft picks from 2012 and 2013—Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney—along with pitcher Dan Straily in a July 4 deal for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said he didn’t want to trade the 20-year-old Russell, rated the No. 5 prospect in the game by MLB.com, but succumbed to the urge to add pitching depth in hopes of making a deep playoff run last season.

Of the three shortstops in question, Baez has the greatest power potential. His lack of contact at the major league level—95 strikeouts in his first 213 at-bats—hasn’t tempered the club’s confidence in him. Epstein said Baez will start the 2015 campaign on the Cubs’ 25-man roster, “barring anything out of the ordinary.”

A top National League scout raved about the raw skills he sees in Baez, who turns 22 on Dec. 1.

“I love his power, and he really seems comfortable at shortstop,” the scout said. “He’s not a flashy fielder—just gets the ball and throws the runner out. Baez has less moving parts than Castro.

“Will he hit? I really think so. Remember when [Anthony] Rizzo first came up in San Diego? He struck out almost 40 percent of the time. That bat speed and the quick hands cannot be taught. [Baez] is 21 and struck out at every level a lot of times until he figured it out. I like him as a shortstop, second baseman or third baseman. And I see a lot of extra-base hits in his future.”

The Cubs’ third shortstop jewel is the young veteran Castro, already a three-time All-Star at just 24 years old. His recovery from a disappointing 2013 season was a boon for both him and the organization.

After landing a seven-year, $60 million contract in August 2012, Castro seemed to enter 2013 as if he had nothing to prove. He reported to camp 10 pounds heavier and never hit his stride, batting just .245 on the season (39 points below his current lifetime average).

In 2014, a rededicated Castro led the team in hitting with a .292 mark from the middle of the order and regained his All-Star status. Working with infield instructor Gary Jones, he also reduced his errors from 22 to 15—the first season in four he didn’t lead major league shortstops in miscues.

The question of what the Cubs will do with their surplus of middle-infield talent could be answered this winter. If so, Castro might be the likeliest to go. At least three major-market teams will be seeking a top shortstop, and Castro would seem the most marketable commodity as an already-established big league star.

Ultimately, the Cubs could elect to keep all three shortstops—each 24 or younger—and move two of them to different positions. Baez is currently scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman, with Russell ticketed to play shortstop at either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa.

Maddon’s arrival seems to accelerate the team’s timetable for winning. A blockbuster deal for a top young pitcher could be the next step.

In other words, don’t sell Epstein short. Not so long as he has shortstops to sell.

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Baseball Prospectus unveils Cubs top 10 prospects

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Scouting publication Baseball Prospectus unveiled its list of the top 10 Cubs prospects on Friday. For Cubs fans and prospect junkies, it’s like Christmas day.

Over the last few seasons, the organization has stockpiled a deep farm system many view as the best in baseball. Unlike some other major league clubs, the list of high-upside Cubs farmhands extends well beyond a top 10—even with Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks graduating to the big leagues. Here is how Baseball Prospectus viewed the top players in the organization:

1. SS Addison Russell
2. 3B Kris Bryant
3. OF Jorge Soler
4. OF Albert Almora
5. C Kyle Schwarber
6. OF Billy McKinney
7. RHP Pierce Johnson
8. SS Gleyber Torres
9. 1B Dan Vogelbach
10. LHP Carson Sands

On Russell:

Strengths: Impact potential with the stick; strong hands and barrel control; good bat speed; improved approach; should grow into high-contact MLB bat that will hit for average and power; solid actions at short; good hands with left-side arm; solid run paired with baserunning acumen; clocks plus times out of the box and should settle in as average run at maturity.

Weaknesses: Still working to slow down game in the field; set-up and footwork can get loose, particularly at the margins, leading to drift in throws; can slip into overly aggressive approach at plate.

The Year Ahead: Russell is close to major-league ready and possesses the skill set, makeup, and natural ability to make an immediate impact as soon as he is called upon. The profile is an elite blend of offensive upside, defensive stability at a high-worth position, athleticism, and strength; the aggregate of which could produce a perennial all-star capable of impacting the game in all facets. Not only might this be the best collection of tools, upside, and probability from a talented crop of minor-league shortstops, but there’s a case for top prospect in the game. He should debut in Chicago in 2015 and it won’t be long before Russell surpasses the ‘L’ stop as the best known Addison in Wrigleyville.

On Bryant:

Strengths: Elite raw power; big leverage and big-boy present strength; ability to produce regular hard contact; good plate coverage allowing for wide kill zone on mistake pitches; borderline double-plus arm; solid athleticism and coordination for a big man; strong grades for makeup.

Weaknesses: Long levers produce holes in swing that could be attacked by major-league arms; limited swing plane/pitch plane overlap narrows contact margin; some issues with velocity on inner half; capable at third base but may lack lower-half agility to excel; run could settle a tick below average at maturity.

The Year Ahead: Through his minor-league career, which totals just a shade over a full major-league season’s worth of plate appearances, Bryant has posted pornographic numbers at the plate, including a slash line of .327/.428/.666 while averaging nearly a home run every three games. He’s ready to bring his act to The Show, where he should eventually settle in as a fixture in the middle of the Cubs lineup. This season could be choppy at times due to the potential for major-league arms to exploit shortcomings in a swing. But the approach, work ethic, and IQ should aid Bryant in making his adjustments, and the raw power will be a legit threat from day one. Depending on the organization’s needs, Bryant could remain at third or transition out to right field where his arm and athleticism could make him a solid defender. Either way, he will join Russell as the foundation of a talented, young Cubs lineup for years to come, with 2015 likely to serve as the coming out party.

On Schwarber:

Strengths: Advanced bat; plus-to-better raw power that plays in game thanks to plate coverage and strike-zone awareness; solid bat speed and good bat-to-ball skills should help hit tool play average or better; strong leader and big makeup; lauded for work ethic; positive reviews from instructs on progress behind the plate.

On Johnson:

Strengths: Loud stuff led by lively, low-90s fastball and sharp, low-80s hammer; can dial up to mid-90s with regularity; capable of cutting fastball for different look, counterbalance to two-seamer; some deception; traditional starter’s build; good present strength; will flash above-average change piece with fade mirroring fastball action; showed improvement in consistency of pitch execution and command over final two months.

On Sands:

Strengths: Balanced repertoire featuring three above-average offerings and above-average command; reports of improved consistency in mechanics and arm action through instructs; comfortable pitching to all four quadrants; some room to bump velo band to firm plus in comfort zone; already showing feel for sequencing; sturdy build; solid presence and even demeanor.

A notable absence from the list was right-hander C.J. Edwards, ranked No. 5 a year ago. Despite missing three months to a shoulder strain, Edwards enjoyed a solid second half that included a nice run in the Arizona Fall League. The publication seems to be skeptical of his long-term health, but still had positive things to say about the hard thrower.

Upon returning to action in late July, Edwards showcased impressive swing-and-miss stuff over six starts, with his fastball and curve each grading out as plus offerings and his change showing promise to boot. Were there more certainty that Edwards could maintain the quality of his stuff over the course of a full season at the upper levels, he would fit comfortably as one of the top-ten prospects in the system.

Soler reached the majors in 2014, and the publication believes Russell and Bryant could both join him at Wrigley Field in the upcoming season. They expect Almora, Schwarber, Johnson and Vogelbach to see action in the majors sometime in 2016.

 

Cubs AFL recap: 10/23/14

Mesa picked up a 7-3 win over Scottsdale with limited production from Cubs prospects Thursday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • SS Addison Russell finished 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in the seventh, his second of the fall. It was announced after the game that this will be Russell’s final showing in the Arizona Fall League. Russell missed the early portion of 2014, so the front office brought the shortstop to Arizona to get a full season’s work.
  • DH Dan Vogelbach went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

The Solar Sox head to Peoria Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35. Cubs right-hander Armando Rivero is projected to start for Mesa.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/22/14

The offense again carried Mesa to victory, this time a 9-3 win over Scottsdale Wednesday afternoon. Every Cubs prospect who got into the game contributed to the result. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP Ivan Pineyro earned the win despite a shaky second inning. He pitched 2.2 innings, giving up three earned runs on two hits and a walk, while striking out three. All his earned runs came on a three-run homer in the second.
  • RF Bijan Rademacher was 2-for-4 on the day with a walk and two runs scored. He singled in the third and fifth innings. He also committed a fielding error in the game.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. He recorded singles in the second and eighth innings.
  • SS Addison Russell went 1-for-6 with a two-RBI single in the second inning, scoring Rademacher and Chad Hinshaw (Angels). In the field, he committed his third error of the season.

Mesa will host Scottsdale Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/21/14

It was a big day for Cubs bats as Mesa took down Surprise 11-6 Tuesday afternoon. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP C.J. Edwards got the start, giving up one earned run on one hit and three walks over two innings.
  • DH Addison Russell hit his first homer of the AFL season and finished 2-for-5 with three RBI. With the bases loaded in the first inning, Russell drove in fellow farmhand Jacob Hannemann. Jon Berti (Blue Jays) scored on an error during the play. In the top of the fifth, Russell hit a two-run shot, scoring Matt Olson.
  • LF Jacob Hannemann finished with three hits, two RBI and a run scored Tuesday. He led off the game with a single and scored on the Russell single. He recorded his second single in the fourth inning and drove in a run with an eighth-inning single.
  • LHP Gerardo Concepcion picked up his first win of the fall, going 2.1 innings, giving up one hit and striking out two.

Mesa heads to Scottsdale Wednesday where Cubs prospect Ivan Pineyro is scheduled to start. First pitch is slated for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/20/14

Mesa’s late rally was thwarted by Surprise, as the Solar Sox fell 6-5 Monday, but three Cubs prospects got into the game. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • 1B Dan Vogelbach finished 1-for-3, with a double to lead off the third inning. He also recorded a sacrifice fly in the first to give Mesa an early lead and drew a ninth-inning walk.
  • LF Jacob Hannemann went 1-for-4 with a bunt single in the second inning. He recorded an RBI groundout in the eighth as well.
  • SS Addison Russell was 0-for-5 and committed his second error of the AFL season defensively. But he also helped turn two double plays.

Mesa heads to Surprise Tuesday, where Cubs farmhand C.J. Edwards is scheduled to start. The start time is 12:35 local time.

 

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/18/14

Mesa took it to one of the game’s best prospects, cruising to an 8-4 win over Diamondbacks farmhand Archie Bradley on Saturday. A trio of Cubs prospects were in the lineup, with mixed results. Here are some notes from Saturday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, an RBI and a run scored. In the second inning, he reached on a ball hit to the shortstop, scoring Eric Stamets (Angels) from second. In the fourth, he recorded a leadoff bunt single, moved to second on a throwing error, and got to third on a single. He then stole home.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach went 0-for-3 with two runs scored. He drew a walk in the first inning and scored on a Tony Renda (Nationals) triple. He reached on a fielder’s choice in the third and later scored on a sacrifice fly.
  • DH Addison Russell finished the day 0-for-4 with two runs scored. He reached on a fielder’s choice in the first and scored on the Renda triple. Russell reached base in the third on a throwing error and scored three batters later from third on a force out.

Mesa hosts Surprise on Monday with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/16/14

A host of Cubs prospects were in action Thursday, and made a difference, as the Solar Sox captured a 6-2 win over Peoria. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP Ivan Pineyro got the start, pitching three scoreless innings in the win. He gave up four hits—all singles—and struck out three while walking none.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach went 2-for-4 with his first RBI of the fall. In the fourth inning, he doubled, scoring Addison Russell from second. He reached base again in the eighth with a soft single to left and scored on a Spencer Kieboom (Nationals) homer a batter later.
  • RHP Zach Cates pitched two scoreless innings, striking out one while giving up two hits and a walk.
  • SS Russell went 1-for-4, hitting a single in the eighth inning and reaching base on an error. He scored on the aforementioned Vogelbach double and Kieboom homer.
  • DH Jacob Hannemann went 0-for-4.

Mesa hosts Surprise Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL recap: 10/15/14

Led by Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards’ three solid innings of work, Mesa cruised to a 5-2 win over Peoria Wednesday. A few of the position players also made contributions in the victory. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP C.J. Edwards gave up one hit and one walk over three scoreless innings, picking up his first win of the fall. He struck out three batters, including Francisco Lindor (Indians), one of the game’s top farmhands.
  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • DH Addison Russell was 1-for-3 with a run-scoring, second-inning double, bringing in Cal Towey (Angels). He also drew a walk.

Mesa hosts Peoria Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/14/14

Despite outhitting Scottsdale, Mesa was on the losing end of its matchup Tuesday. Addison Russell played a big role for the offense, but Gerardo Concepcion struggled on the mound. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • SS Addison Russell went 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk Tuesday. Russell led off the eighth inning with a single to left, and scored one batter later on a Matt Olson (Athletics) home run. He drew a one-out walk in the ninth, scoring from third three batters later on a Kaleb Cowart (Angels) force out. He also committed his first throwing error of the fall.
  • LHP Gerardo Concepcion struggled in 1.2 innings of work, giving up three earned runs on one hit and two walks and striking out one batter.

The Solar Sox resume play Wednesday with a 12:35 local time start at Peoria. Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards is scheduled to start.

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