Even on a team as loaded as the Cubs, there are a few players on the spot.
Left fielder Kyle Schwarber is one. Closer Brandon Morrow is another.
And then there is shortstop Addison Russell.
No player on the Cubs last year endured a more tumultuous season than Russell.
On the field, he appeared in only 110 games, down from 151 in 2016, and posted a hitting line of .239/.304./418 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs.
A strained right foot and plantar fasciitis put him on the disabled list from Aug. 3 to Sept. 16.
Off the field, he had to answer questions about accusations of domestic abuse raised on social media, accusations Russell has denied and no longer wishes to discuss in public.
In the early days of spring training this year, Russell seemed more relaxed and ready to go. At 24, he is still part of the Cubs’ young “core” of players even though he had to listen to trade rumors in the offseason.
“There was a lot of trade talk,” he told reporters. “My initial thoughts were, ‘I hope it doesn’t happen. But wherever I go, I’ll try to bring to the table what I bring here.’ ”
Russell’s foot seems better this spring, and he has worked on strengthening his right shoulder to help his throwing. All of that should help Russell, who already is a smooth fielder.
“It really comes down to arm strength on a consistent basis,” manager Joe Maddon told the media. “If you can imagine, when a guy doesn’t make mistakes throwing a baseball and he’s more accurate because he’s stronger, the rest of his game becomes better because he doesn’t worry about it anymore. I think a part of when guys struggle in a particular area of their game, it’s because they are concerned about something else. When he becomes solid with his throwing, the rest of his game takes off.”
The Cubs would like Russell’s offense to take off, particularly his batting average and on-base percentage. When healthy, the power should be there, as he has demonstrated in the past.
His 12 home runs last year were down from the 21 he hit in the Cubs’ world-championship season of 2016, when he also drove in 95 runs.
Russell has talked of wanting to become more disciplined at the plate, but his walk rate dipped from 9.2 percent in 2016 to 7.5 percent last year, and his strikeout rate ticked up from 22.6 percent to 23.6 percent.
A more settled Russell also should compete for a Gold Glove, along with his double-play partner, second baseman Javy Baez.
“Absolutely,” Maddon said. “He doesn’t make mistakes physically as he goes after a ball, how his feet work. He plays through the ball really well and turns a double play well.”
And settled is where Russell feels with the Cubs.
“I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform,” he said. “I want to be in a Cubs uniform for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, I got traded. But that’s not the case here.”