Rookie season behind him, Cubs' Addison Russell ready for more

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs' star shortstop, Addison Russell, might be more comfortable in his skin than ever before. Now fully ensconced as the starter at his natural position, with nearly a year in the majors under his belt, Russell is ready for the next level.

“Looking back, there’s a lot of things I can get better at, but I look back and know it was a good year, a good step forward,” Russell said Saturday after a panel discussion with fellow young players at the Cubs fan convention.

More than just Russell's game has taken a step. His personality has emerged since he broke into the majors and then got married this offseason. He is comfortable and has a playful side, which isn’t a surprise, considering Russell is a kid. At just 21 years old, he’s younger than former college players Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant, though they all have about the same amount of experience in the big leagues.

On Saturday, Russell seemed to relate best to the young fans in the crowd. He even invited one on stage after seeing his own face painted on the back of the kid’s head. This playful side comes out when Russell is confident -- both in his game and in himself. On the field, nothing gets him more excited than playing great defense. He says making spectacular plays is “addictive.”

“It dates back to when I was a little kid. I watched ESPN top 10 [plays],” Russell said. “I always wanted to make the top 10 plays, and now I’m in a position where I can make it. Not for me, but for my pitcher.”

He flashed some of that defensive prowess last season, particularly after moving back to short from second base. At the plate, Russell took off in the second half, when he caught up to fastballs that had previously whizzed past him. His added leg kick led to more gap and home-run power, and his 29 doubles tied for third among Cubs, though Russell had many fewer at-bats than the team leaders.

His goals for 2016 include staying healthy -- he missed the National League Championship Series because of a leg injury -- and strengthening his arm. His range is already there.

“I’m working on getting my arm stronger and also my footwork,” Russell said. “Getting in the right position to throw.”

There is more he can achieve. He is already good, but it feels like he has only scratched the surface and is just now starting to figure things out.

“I can’t wait,” Russell said. “It’s going to be a big year.”