Russell followed that up with a two-run shot into the teeth of the wind Saturday.
The Pirates outfielders took a combined one step on the two homers – no doubters.
That power potential is something Maddon has been talking up since spring training, continually pointing to Russell’s strong hands and youth (players don’t typically hit their power peak until 26-27 years of age).
Russell said he feels more confident this year at the plate and is working to get pitches he can drive and do some damage with.
That calm demeanor – that “slow heart beat” – is not anything new to the second-year rising star.
“It’s been that way my whole life,” Russell said. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t get nervous or anything like that. It’s just I don’t show a lot of emotion out there.”
Russell is comfortable in that skin and is developing a reputation as a “clutch” player 174 games into his big-league career.
“I think that’s his personality,” veteran second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “He’s very calm. He’s very focused and I think when he gets up to the dish, I say he’s got ice in his veins.
“He’s not getting too hyped up there. He’s ready to do the job and have a good, quality at-bat. He’s just gonna continue to get better. Any struggles that he has, even at this time, it’s just because he’s young. He’s just gotta get that experience.”
While most players – especially young guys in their sophomore season in “The Show” – tighten up in high-pressure spots, Zobrist has watched Russell play without fear, whether it’s with two strikes, two outs or the game on the line.
Maddon mentioned Russell’s approach unprovoked two separate times throughout the weekend, talking about the shortstop’s pregame routine when he’s a self-described “loner.”
“He’s got great aptitude and he’s a great listener,” Maddon said. “Those are two wonderful qualities to have as a young person trying to get better in your profession.”
Count Cubs ace Jake Arrieta among those at the forefront of the Addison Russell Fan Club thanks to his defense, which included a diving snare of a line drive in Sunday’s game.
“I’m always impressed with Addison,” Arrieta said. “Whether he’s hitting .320 or not, his defense shows up every day. He’s capable of some pretty special things when he’s on the field.
“He’s swinging the bat really well. A couple big home runs. It’s just a matter of time before he really comes into his own at the plate. We’ve seen it in spurts. He’s such a young player and to see the promise already from him is pretty incredible.”
If you ever wanted to know Russell’s ridiculous potential, just look at how Cubs players and coaches constantly talk about how much more is left in the tank.
This about a guy who has an OPS over 1.000 through the first 15 days of May.
“The sky is the limit for that guy,” Zobrist said. “He’s an incredible athlete. He’s strong, he’s quick. He’s got all the tools to be a fantastic player.
“He’s already making those adjustments. It’s because he thinks along with the game. He’s not just assuming it’s gonna happen. He’s making the adjustments and he’s working hard.
“It really irks him when he’s not playing the way he’s capable of. He’s got all the intangibles that you have to have on top of the physcial aspect. He’s just gonna get better.”
Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up and out of the No. 11 pick in last month’s NFL draft and into, in some opinions, a supposed problem in the person of pass rusher Leonard Floyd. Multiple problems, actually, considering all the things “wrong” with Floyd.
Fortunately for the Bears, all of these flaws come with major qualifiers – “yeah, but…” things that render those flaws suspect at least, moot at best. And the yeah-but’s come, not from scouting reports, projections or other suppositions, but from the NFL itself.
Where’s the sack production?
Floyd put up just 4.5 sacks for Georgia last season, hardly the kind of numbers general managers trade up to get. Floyd finished his three Georgia seasons with 17 total sacks – the same total Von Miller posted in his junior season alone at Texas A&M on his way to being John Fox’s first draft choice (2011) in Denver.
“He’s shown that he’s a good pass rusher in college,” insisted defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He just doesn’t have the numbers to support that on a piece of paper. But a lot of that is due to the way [Georgia coaches] used him, too.”
Fangio was asked during this weekend’s rookie minicamp if he had ever coached anyone who hadn’t been an elite college pass rusher but became one in the NFL. Fangio said nobody came to mind, a concerning comment from one of the NFL’s top defensive coaches and one who’d coached rush-linebacker Aldon Smith as a rookie.
The fact is that more than a few of the NFL’s elite pass rushers only achieved “elite” status when they reached the NFL level. Surprisingly, Fangio was involved with one prominent example: Smith.
In one of the NFL’s greatest examples of immediate impact, Fangio was San Francisco defensive coordinator when the 49ers drafted Smith No. 7 overall in the 2011 draft. Smith’s career has derailed after an impressive start that saw him compile 42 sacks over his first 43 games – effectively one per game.
This after a final Missouri season that produced six sacks – decent but not spectacular for the player who then became the fastest player in NFL history to register 30 career sacks.