By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Cubs’ new shortstop is appreciative of the team’s confidence in him, while staying humble.
On Friday, Addison Russell was put in the awkward position of replacing three-time All-Star Starlin Castro, despite the veteran’s status and contract.
Russell, 21, has come a long way from last July’s trade bringing him to Chicago from Oakland. He was one of three players dealt to the Cubs for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Called up from Triple-A Iowa in April, Russell made a seamless move to second base, a position he never played before.
Working with Castro as part of the double-play tandem, Russell’s development at the plate, on the field and as a major league player allowed manager Joe Maddon to make the unorthodox move to replace Castro.
Russell was ready for anything after hearing the Maddon mantra in spring training. The manager and organization believe that a versatile young player is a more functional element of winning baseball games.
“I really don’t think there is one guy here who thinks he is going to play just one position the whole season,” Russell said. “I just think this is a game of adjustments. You are going to have to play where the team needs you best.We just go from there.”
Maddon and his coaching staff have done a masterful job of competing for the postseason and bringing four rookies — including Russell — through their own player development plan. This has been done while each player hit his own peaks and valleys.
“It’s just been exciting,” Russell said about his first go-around in the big leagues. “When everyone has (new) positions like that, it kind of hypes me up. I get even more into the game. As competitors, I think we all do that. It is pretty cool being able to feel the atmosphere at the big league level.”
Russell and Castro both said they have gotten along great as on- and off-field partners.
“I really don’t know what is going on,” Russell said of his sudden change to shortstop. “All I know is he (Castro) is a good teammate. He picks me up whenever I am down. That is all I really have to say about that.”
Russell did admit playing shortstop is a passion for him.
“Some days, you go out for early work to do something extra,” he said. “Sometimes, you just go out for BP, and it just comes to you. I have been playing the position since I was a little kid. Finally my dreams are coming true. That is great, but it’s really all the team now. I am in the big leagues. If they put me somewhere and leave me, I am going to try and get the job done.”
Maddon won’t move Russell around again at this point, unless the late innings of a ballgame dictate position changes.
“Coming from where I have come from (a player development background), it’s nice to have one guy you like being out there,” Maddon said. “Normally, you want that middle part of the field to be consistently defensive. I don’t anticipate a regular routine of alternating. I do want to get Starlin back to where he had been.”
Translation: Your new Cubs starting shortstop is Addison Russell.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.