The Cubs entered the season with MLBPipeline.com's top-rated farm system, and now their three best prospects are all in the big leagues. Outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 23 on MLBPipeline's preseason Top 100 Prospects list) made the Opening Day roster, Bryant (No. 2) has gone 6-for-14 in his first four games with Chicago and Russell (No. 5) is being asked to shore up the team's weakest position.
Through 12 games, Chicago's second basemen have combined for a .146/.222/.146 batting line and their .369 OPS ranks as the worst in baseball at the position. Arismendy Alcantara, who has started six games at second base, will be optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Russell.
The 11th overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics, Russell signed for $2.6 million and joined the Cubs as the centerpiece of the Jeff Samardzija trade last July. He spent his first three pro seasons solely as a shortstop before splitting time between shortstop (six games) and second base (five) at Iowa this April.
As a shortstop, the 21-year-old Russell has drawn comparisons to the likes of Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and former MVP Miguel Tejada for his all-around ability. He has explosive bat speed and an advanced approach for his age, which have resulted in .301/.377/.520 numbers with 38 homers in 244 Minor League games. He makes consistent hard contact, projects to be a plus hitter for both average and power, and has average speed and good instincts on the bases.
While Russell attracts more raves for his bat, he's also a better defensive shortstop than Cubs incumbent Starlin Castro and another highly touted youngster, Javier Baez. (Baez, expected to win Chicago's second-base job entering Spring Training, was sent to Iowa and has yet to play this year because he's on bereavement leave following the death of his 21-year-old sister Noely). Russell has solid range and arm strength at shortstop, though he tends to drop his arm slot on throws.
Russell should definitely be an offensive upgrade at second base, especially considering what little the Cubs have gotten from the position so far this year. He'll have to learn on the job in the field, though he has the tools to get the job done for now and to develop into a plus defender with experience.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.