The future is now in Chicago. Just days after the Cubs promoted top prospect Kris Bryant, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the club will call up prospect infielder Addison Russell.
The 21-year-old Russell has mostly been a shortstop in the minors and it’s still considered his best position for the long-term, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that he’s being called up to play second base. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com wrote on Monday that he has been playing second base of late with Triple-A Iowa in case there was a need with the big club. Tommy La Stella is currently on the disabled list with an oblique strain and Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara have struggled, so it’s worth a shot. Of course, the Cubs currently have Starlin Castro at shortstop.
Russell, who was acquired from the Athletics last July in the Jeff Samardzija deal, was batting .318 (14-for-44) with one home run and an .803 OPS across his first 11 games in Triple-A this season and owns a .300/.376/.519 batting line in the minors. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 3 prospect in the game earlier this year.
There was some speculation that infielder Tommy La Stella’s rib cage injury could clear the way for the Cubs to call up No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant for his highly anticipated debut, but they’re keeping him at Triple-A for now.
La Stella has been placed on the disabled list and third baseman Mike Olt is also sidelined by a wrist injury, but instead of promoting Bryant the Cubs are going with relief pitcher Zac Rosscup to fill his roster spot.
Bryant is 8-for-21 (.381) with two homers and a 1.089 OPS through fives games for Triple-A Iowa, but Friday is the day when he’ll have been in the minors enough to delay his eventual free agency for an entire extra year.
It won’t be long now.
Here are the starting lineups for Sunday’s Opening Night game between the Cardinals and Cubs …
St. Louis Cardinals
3B Matt Carpenter
RF Jason Heyward
LF Matt Holliday
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
CF Jon Jay
SP Adam Wainwright
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Jorge Soler
1B Anthony Rizzo
SS Starlin Castro
LF Chris Coghlan
C David Ross
3B Mike Olt
SP Jon Lester
2B Tommy La Stella
Peralta batting cleanup instead of Adams is somewhat of a surprise, but otherwise this is a predictable look for the visiting Cardinals and manager Mike Matheny. Cubs manager Joe Maddon threw a bunch of wrenches into his lineup — from Soler batting second, to Castro batting cleanup, to Lester hitting eighth, to Ross starting over Miguel Montero at catcher against a righty. It seems Lester may already have a personal catcher in Chicago.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. First pitch at Wrigley Field is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.
Javier Baez has been penciled in as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, but manager Joe Maddon made it pretty clear that the job is hardly being handed to him.
Maddon told Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com:
Of course, there’s a chance he doesn’t make the team. There’s no lock in regard to that. I talked about the entitlement program. It doesn’t exist. Everything has to be earned.
Baez has lots of long-term potential as a middle infielder with 30-homer power, but he struck out a ton in the minors and then hit .169 with 95 strikeouts in his 52-game debut for the Cubs. Those struggles have continued this spring, which is why it might be Tommy La Stella or Arismendy Alcantara playing second base on Opening Day while the 22-year-old Baez tries to get on track back at Triple-A.
At the same time, Maddon also made it clear that he realizes the strikeouts and out-of-control swings are part of the overall package that contains Baez’s big-time power potential, saying: “I think it bothers the fans more than it bothers me.”
As the Rays’ manager Joe Maddon frequently moved players around to different positions defensively and it looks like he’s taking the same approach with the Cubs job, including asking No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant to spend some time in the outfield.
Bryant is a third baseman–and the reigning Baseball America minor league player of the year–but Maddon met with him Monday for the first time and afterward said:
He was very impressive and very mature for a kid of 23. He understands what he is doing really well. He is accepting of working in the outfield, very excepting of that. If you ask him, he would say he prefers to play third base. As a team member, he is prepared to go to the outfield.
Bryant will almost certainly begin the season at Triple-A, if only so the Cubs can delay the start of his service time enough to retain him for an extra pre-free agency season. Once he’s ready for a call-up, odds are he’ll be playing third base unless one of the guys keeping the position warm for him–probably Mike Olt or Tommy La Stella–get off to an amazing start.