Promotion of Addison Russell Touches ‘Em All in Terms of Organizational Philosophies

The Cubs have called up Addison Russell. This is not news to you because I write slowly and Addison Russell has already played some major league games (and collected his first MLB hit and RBI). But that fact remains that the Cubs called up another top 5 prospect in baseball and there are a number of things to consider beyond just Addison Russell’s future as a big leaguer and with the Cubs.

Position changes still telegraph promotions to the big leagues. The front office spent a great deal of the offseason and spring training talking about position flexibility and moving players around to increase value. They still seem to employ, with their top prospects at least, a philosophy of leaving players at their highest value spot for as long as possible.

Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and now Addison Russell all moved positions down the defensive spectrum briefly before being promoted to the big leagues. The Cubs might have stuck to their stated plan if Javier Baez had been available, but that is hardly certain because of the way Kris Bryant was handled.

Kris Bryant played only 3B in Iowa. There was no big-time prospect in LF that affected his playing time there in any way. The Cubs chose to only play Bryant at 3B. Right now the Cubs view Bryant as a 3B, and, despite the want for positional flexibility, they allowed Bryant to focus on that.

The infield for the Cubs is pretty set at this point and it will take some special things to dislodge it. Javier Baez figuring it out in AAA or the Cubs getting an offer they can’t refuse on Starlin Castro are the only — unlikely — scenarios that are could change things. Also, this means keeping a keen eye on the position Kyle Schwarber is playing in the future since a move to LF very well could signal a promotion down the road.

The double promotion theory was basically right after all. Kris Bryant was of course promoted on Friday ahead of Addison Russell, but Theo Epstein talked about how they would have preferred to start Bryant on the road and not against James Shields. Bryant was called up when he was only because an Olt injury changed plans.

Surprising to me and many others is that Addison Russell virtually skipped AAA. The front office is not dogmatic about 500 at bats in AAA, but I am surprised that a player, even one with as advanced of approach as Russell, would not spend longer at that level. Jed Hoyer has talked about how Anthony Rizzo was rushed to the big leagues in San Diego, by him.

While Russell did go to the Fall League twice and played an extra 21 games with 97 plate appearances, he tallied only 14 games and 59 plate appearances for the Iowa Cubs. That has to be one of the shortest stays in AAA of a prospect under Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. The front office certainly does consider each player an individual case despite the rough guidelines for development they have for all players.

Batting Production by Position

The chart above makes it pretty clear why the Cubs needed to call up Addison Russell and perhaps rush him a touch. The numbers showed just how putrid the Cubs production at 2B had been prior to the call up of Addison Russell. The schedule might also have played a factor as well, as the Cubs face division foes until May 10th. The two non-division opponents the Cubs face over the next month are the surging New York Mets and the San Diego Padres.

The start of the season is always critical to a team (bad starts can sink you), but it is doubly so when you are almost constantly playing teams that are competing directly for a playoff spot. The Cubs could not afford to go with Jonathan Herrera as a starting position player and/or hope that Tommy La Stella could come back healthy/good in a few days.

The promotion of Addison Russell touches on so many competing organizational decisions and philosophies that it is fascinating to analyze. At the end of the day it means that the Cubs have one of the youngest and most talented infields in baseball right now. Whether Russell is able to stick full time is still up in the air, but this is beyond an exciting time for the Cubs organization.


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