Addison Russell’s Long-Term Value
The fantasy landscape is changing dramatically at the shortstop position in dynasty leagues. If you blink, you might miss the changing of the guard. The dramatic overhaul at the top of the position is already underway with Chicago Cubs top prospect Addison Russell completing his meteoric rise to The Show earlier this week. The 21-year-old slashed .318/.326/.477 in 11 games at Triple-A this spring before making his MLB debut in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, going 0-for-5 at the plate.
In the current run scoring environment, where teams are scoring less, and hitters are striking out at a historic rate, Russell’s short, compact swing, enables him to hit for both average and power. That rare combination, plus the ability to swipe the occasional base, is why Russell profiles as a potential fantasy superstar down the road. It’s only a matter of time before the current crop of young shortstops take over, but is there a chance that they rise to the top sooner than we all anticipated?
Three of the top five shortstops from our 2015 TDG Consensus Top 50 Dynasty Shortstop rankings will be over the age of 30 next season (Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond and Jose Reyes). Tulowitzki is a safe bet to retain the top overall spot at this point. Despite his propensity to miss significant chunks of the season with injuries, his almost supernatural hitting is enough to keep him in the top spot for at least a few more years.
Atrocious might be an understatement when it comes to assessing Desmond in the field. He leads the Majors with eight errors this season. His days as a shortstop could be numbered. With free agency looming, who knows where he will be down the road in a few years. Reyes gets unfairly tagged as “injury-prone” but he’s actually injured right now. Ironic. With a skill set thats predicated on speed, he becomes a much riskier proposition as he gets older.
Factor in that Xander Bogaerts, who we ranked third overall this offseason, has failed to produce elite fantasy numbers to this point in his career, and that fellow Red Sox Hanley Ramirez (eighth overall) will be doing his best Manny Ramirez impersonation in left field for the next half-decade, and all of a sudden, there is a ton of risk at shortstop long-term. While most fantasy owners shy away from risk long-term, Russell is one risk worth embracing because he has a realistic chance to ascend to the very top of the position fantasy-wise by the end of the 2015 campaign if he produces at the plate.
Bogaerts and Russell, along with prospects like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are the unquestioned future of the position long-term, but given all of the question marks swirling around the elite veterans at the position, we might be underestimating how quickly they could surpass the elder statesmen.
I’m not sure anybody expected Russell to be up this quickly, but a couple of surprising developments precipitated his rapid ascent. Everybody anticipated that Javier Baez would be the Cubs starting second baseman this season. As much as we harp on the 41 percent strikeout rate and shockingly obvious lack of progress in the contact department this past offseason, we all expected Baez to begin the year in the Majors. His fantasy stock has plummeted this spring with his demotion (which cleared a spot for Russell) but he remains a special talent who has the potential to unlock it in a hurry if he makes adjustments to his approach at the plate.
Finally, the Cubs unexpectedly moved Russell, one of the top defensive shortstops prospects in the game, over to the keystone. He played all of five games at second base in Iowa this spring before the Cubs made the decision to promote him. It all happened very quickly, but as FanGraphs managing editor Dave Cameron pointed out, Russell is a gamble worth taking for the Cubs given their lack of other options at second base in the event that it pans out in the short-term.
What happens with Starlin Castro going forward (if he remains a Cub entrenched at shortstop) will determine where Russell ultimately ends up, but his long-term home is at short. Without question. For the record, you’re playing him at shortstop in any fantasy league going forward. I refuse to relive the whole “why isn’t player x ranked at this position in your consensus rankings” discussion from this past offseason’s 2015 TDG Consensus Dynasty League Rankings. I know for a fact that it nearly caused our very own sandwich connoisseur Craig Goldstein to go on a Bryan Price-style rant, so don’t bring it up.
It’s unrealistic to expect Russell to make a major fantasy impact in 2015. Let’s be honest, but given his immense potential and youth, his promotion to the big leagues is yet another reminder that there will be a revolution at shortstop before we know it. With elite young talents like Russell, Bogaerts, Correa, Seager and Baez knocking on the door, it’s only a matter of time before they kick it down.