There was a changing of the guard at the shortstop position this past season. Starlin Castro was switched to second base after struggles at the plate and in the field helped usher in Addison Russell as the likely starter for years to come. Let’s take a look back and what led to this decision.
There was a lot of optimism for Castro going into this year thanks to a bounce-back 2014 that returned him to one of the more exciting young players at the shortstop position despite questions about his long term defensive outlook. A strong April kept the optimism going, but his offensive production cratered for the next three months as he batted just .214. In total, Castro managed just a .243/.278/.320 with 12 doubles, six home runs and 47 RBI, a shell of the middle of the order bat, the team needed him to be. His UZR/150 rating of 1.4 was his best over the past couple of years, but still only average. The improvement wasn’t nearly enough and led to a benching and a demotion from shortstop.
Enter Addison Russell, whose strong defensive play at second earned him a promotion to his natural position of shortstop. His defense continued to shine with a 20.6 UZR/150 rating which would have ranked first in the majors over a full season. His offense surged as well as he batted .259/.315/.465 with 12 doubles, eight home runs and 29 RBI almost equaling Castro’s numbers in less than half of his at bats. As Russell improved and stabilized the most important position on the field, so did the team who produced their two best monthly records in a playoff-push. Russell injured himself during the NLDS with a hamstring pull and was sorely missed, so there’s no doubt he will be the starter going into next year.
Javier Baez and Jonathan Herrera spent limited time at short last year and with Herrera opting for free agency and Baez possibly on the trading block for young pitching, some depth at the position may be needed.
Gleyber Torres is a name to keep an eye on. He’s the consensus top prospect currently in the Cubs system, but finished his year in High-A Myrtle Beach. He can hit, get on base, has speed and some scouts say he could be a better fielder than Russell. He’s likely a couple of years away.
Due to the gap in the system behind the shortstops at the Major League level and Gleyber Torres, the Cubs should sign a couple of players to minor league contracts to provide insurance.
On the free agent front, as profiled in our second base review, Ben Zobrist could make sense as a veteran utility man and has experience at shortstop. Other possibilities include Stephen Drew who may look to rebuild his value, Cliff Pennington or Mike Aviles.
While it may still be up in the air who his double play partner is, there’s no doubt that Addison Russell will be the Cubs shortstop next year. As the playoffs showed, he’s very important to this team. The sky is the limit for Russell and here’s hoping he can stay healthy enough to show what he’s got.
Cubs 2015 Position Reviews
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