Russell looking dominant in second year

Cubs' All-Star shortstop continuing to grow offensively, defensively

Russell looking dominant in second year

CHICAGO -- When Addison Russell showed up at Wrigley Field last Aug. 7, he checked the lineup and saw he was starting at shortstop against the Giants. Everyone knew Russell was a gifted shortstop, but he had played second base when he was promoted to the big leagues in late April 2015, because Starlin Castro was in the lineup at short.

It's been a crazy year since that move. Castro is playing second for the Yankees, and Russell, 22, not only is the Cubs' mainstay at short, he was voted as the starter there for the National League team in the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in San Diego.

Russell's terrific play

"I've got an All-Star Game under my belt, a few more months of experience," Russell said. "Overcoming all that adversity early on has made me a pretty strong player already. I'm learning more and more as time goes on. The whole experience has been awesome. Even though it's been a short amount of time, I've gained so much knowledge in that short amount of time."

Russell had to work to make the switch to second last year, but he wanted to play in the big leagues.

"Initially [I wasn't comfortable], but being here at the big league level, you try and you learn to make adjustments," Russell said. "I had to learn second base on the fly, but I think I played a pretty good second base and then got moved back over to shortstop. Things were a little more comfortable [at short]. In just under two years service time, I feel pretty comfortable right now."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't call Russell into his office to tell him about the switch.

"They never really said anything to me -- it was just day to day, I looked at the lineup and started playing shortstop more and more, and Castro started playing second base," Russell said. "That's how the transition went."

Russell's diving stop in the 6th

Russell was supposed to be the Athletics' starting shortstop, and he will play his first game at Oakland Coliseum on Friday when the Cubs face the A's in an Interleague series. Oakland selected Russell 11th overall in the 2012 Draft. He was then traded to Chicago in July 2014 as part of the deal for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Now, Russell finds himself a key piece of the Cubs' offense. After playing the majority of 2015 in the No. 9 spot in the order -- Maddon would bat the pitcher eighth -- Russell is now hitting fifth or sixth. He's second on the Cubs in batting with runners in scoring position (.261) behind Anthony Rizzo.

"It's given me a lot of confidence," Russell said of batting higher in the order. "It puts me in these situations where it's not forcing me to produce, but I feel I want to produce. I want to step up in situations. It's fun overall and my confidence is up right now. It makes me happy whenever Joe puts me up there in the lineup. Hopefully, he believes that I can knock in some runs for us."

Russell's two-run single

Russell ranks third in the NL in home RBIs (47), and he led the team with 22 RBIs in July. He and Rizzo (21 RBIs) became the first Cubs duo to reach 20 RBIs in the month of July since Aramis Ramirez (25) and Geovany Soto (20) did so in 2010.

"He likes it," Maddon said of Russell moving up in the order. "It brings out the best in him. He's got 65 RBIs hitting from a low spot in the batting order, for the most part. I feel really good about him up there when something is going on. He gives you his best at-bat. I think he chases less and will accept walks more often."

The Cubs are 7-5 when Russell bats fifth and 11-6 when he's hitting sixth. He will likely see more time there.

"He's just grown -- he's growing and growing," Maddon said. "That's the beauty of development. The biggest thing I used to focus on in the Minor Leagues is what did a guy look like in April, and what does he look like in August. You see the development. He's a perfect example -- everything's gotten better."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.