By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — After a splendid 2016 campaign in which he was an All-Star starter and key figure in the Cubs’ championship, shortstop Addison Russell had a 2017 season marked by regression and which included off-the-field issues.
Russell hit .239 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs, which were all significant drops in production. His wife, Melisa, filed for divorce after she publicly accused him of infidelity and after a friend of Melisa’s accused him of spousal abuse. It’s an allegation that Russell has vehemently denied.
It all added up to a season he’d like to forget.
“It was tough, very tough,” Russell said. “I feel I got through the year with a good sense of my mental capacity. So this year is looking even better. I am looking forward to this year. Last year, it was about my body that got rundown. Also certainly some of the off the field stuff. That is last year. We won’t talk about that.
“You learn you can’t really take anything for granted,” Russell said. “You learn you must live in the moment. It was a tough season last year. We were coming off of winning the World Series and a World Series hangover. Now that we are back here in spring training, we are ready to get back at it.”
Russell also had a foot injury that sidelined him for about six weeks in August and September. He expressed that his goal this year is “to stay level-headed, healthy and produce out on the field.”
The conditioning program Russell used in the offseason was designed for him to get stronger and more flexible, though the training wasn’t all that different.
“My workouts are pretty much the same,” Russell said. “There was just a couple of freak things that happened to my foot. I think that put me back the most. Also, we had an issue with my arm. I took the time this offseason to strengthen my foot and arm. Everything now checks out to be all right.”
Manager Joe Maddon has one primary concern regarding Russell — his arm strength. Internally, the Cubs have discussed moving Russell to second base and Javier Baez to shortstop, but nonetheless, their plan remains to run Russell out 150 times at shortstop this season, assuming good health for him.
“We want to make sure the arm strength is good and keeping him on the field,” Maddon said. “We want him to be comfortable making those throws. When he is well, he is so athletic and so gifted. As a shortstop, he is so fundamentally sound. The power he showed a couple of years ago is not a fluke. Arm health for him is the most important thing. If he can throw, I think the rest of his game is going to be better. That way he will not have anything to worry about.
“Toward the end of last season, you saw him shake some things off and he really played well in the playoffs. He is just a young man. It will all come together for him. I really think this is his year to blossom.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.