The Cubs‘ future was on display late last summer with franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro playing on the same field as highly regarded prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

Suffice it to say, the future is bright on the North Side of Chicago.

After stockpiling the Cubs farm system with top-flight hitters for almost three years, President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer seem poised to make a splash this season on the open market, targeting free-agent pitchers such as Jon Lester and Max Scherzer to headline the starting rotation for years to come.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lack of available impact pitchers in this year’s free-agent class means other teams will also be targeting the aforementioned aces. If that’s the case, then we might finally see the Cubs tap into their wealth of talent on the farm and trade for a comparable pitcher.

Epstein and Hoyer have mentioned on multiple occasions they don’t plan on trading one of their shortstops anytime soon. However, the aftermath of the Scherzer and Lester signings could change that, leaving the Cubs no other choice but to pursue front-of-the-rotation arms via trades.

If that were to happen, the Cubs could still draw a huge return by making shortstop prospect Addison Russell available.

Here is what you need to know about Russell.

The No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Russell, 20, missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury prior to being dealt to the Cubs in early July. However, the shortstop seemingly benefited from the change of scenery, batting .294/.332/.536 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI in 50 games at Double-A Tennessee. The only thing Russell didn’t do this season was steal bases though that should have been expected after he missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury.

At the plate, Russell makes lots of hard contact thanks to his plus bat speed and innate bat-to-ball skills, and he’s really started driving the ball to all fields over the last year. His swing will get long at times, but Russell gets through the zone so quickly that his average won’t suffer due to strikeout totals. Lastly, his mature approach and pitch recognition will lead to plenty of walks and high on-base percentages during his career.

The right-handed hitter’s combination of bat speed, explosive hip rotation and a deep point of contact should produce above-average power at the highest level and possibly more depending on his physical development in the coming years. And given his plate coverage and feel for using the entire field, Russell should always tally a high number of doubles and triples.

On the basepaths, Russell is an above-average runner with the athleticism and instincts to steal 15-20 bags annually but was significantly less aggressive this season after missing the first half with a hamstring injury.

Defensively, Russell still has room left to improve though he already possesses incredible range to both sides and is especially slick when charging the ball. His plus arm strength allows him to make throws from virtually anywhere on the infield, but there also are times when he doesn’t set himself properly and uncorks inaccurate throws.

Unfortunately, Russell lacks a clear path to the major leagues with current shortstop Starlin Castro under contract through at least 2019 and Javier Baez capable of replacing him at the position after moving to second base.

However, some experts, such as ESPN Insider Keith Law (subscription required), believe that Russell will be the team’s best option at shortstop moving forward:

Russell is the best shortstop of the entire group, so his arrival could hasten a chain of position switches with Baez going to third and Bryant to right field. It also could put Starlin Castro, who is showing signs of life with the bat again, on the trade block in the next 12 months, depending on Russell’s health and progress in the minors.

For now, though, it seems that the Cubs won’t be making any hasty position changes, according to Epstein, via Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors:

The nice thing about having impact players who are athletic, can play in the middle of the field, and can hit is that it gives you options.  You can never have too many shortstops and you look around baseball and you see some of the best outfielders in the game came up as shortstops and the same for the best third basemen and second basemen.  We feel that Baez is a shortstop but we’re also comfortable that he can play second base or third base or outfield if he has to.  Addison Russell has versatility to play all over the infield, Bryant can also go out to right field with a relatively smooth transition, Alcantara can play shortstop or second base or be one heck of an outfielder…They can all fit on the field together.

According to Links, Epstein also said that the acquisition of Russell had “nothing to do” with Castro.

Of course, that plan could change once Scherzer and Lester come off the board, as the Cubs would then have no choice but to pursue a trade if they truly want to land a add a front-of-the-rotation starter.

So far, according to Jim Salisbury of, the Cubs have shown interest in Cole Hamels though Philadelphia‘s asking steep asking price of “at least three top prospects” suggests a deal between the two times might not happen any time soon.

However, if Epstein and Hoyer were to explicitly state Russell is available, then they might receive a flurry of offers from around the league, allowing them to feel out the rest of the trade market before having to commit to Hamels.

Though Russell is yet to achieve the major league level, the 20-year-old has the makings of an All-Star-caliber shortstop capable of hitting in the middle of a lineup—and those simply don’t come around often.

It won’t be easy for Epstein and crew to part ways with Russell at this stage in his development, but doing so could be the difference between a good and great offseason for the Cubs.

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