An infielder from the big leagues who lost his ego… Can Russell really change?
Last year, Kiwoom Heroes was one of the teams that performed better on the mound than on the bat. It would be a lie if you did not feel the void left by ‘Geopo’ Park Byeong-ho (kt Wiz), who played a significant role in the offense, as a free agent (FA). Only three hitters reached double-digit home runs: Lee Jeong-hoo (23), Yasiel Puig (21), and Song Seong-moon (13).
In the case of Lee Jung-hoo, he played a steady role throughout the season, but except for Puig, who hit 12 home runs in the second half, he couldn’t find any clear results in the other line. At least in the postseason, “top-class jokers” such as Jeon Byeong-woo and Lim Ji-yeol led the team.
Kiwoom, who gave up on renewing the contract with Puig after the end of last season, naturally needed a hitter who could produce long hits. If possible, I wanted a player who would help in defense. As a result, the card Kiwoom finally chose was Edison Russell, a ‘experienced KBO league’.
Russell, who made his big league debut as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 2015, made his presence known by recording double-digit homers (13) from the first year. He was already recognized for his potential early enough to be selected with the 11th overall pick (Oakland Athletics) in the first round of the 2012 rookie draft. 안전놀이터
The following year, he posted 125 hits in 151 games, 525 at-bats, a batting average of 0.238, 21 home runs, and 95 RBIs, with an OPS of 0.738. While playing as the starting shortstop, he was responsible for the keystone combination of Javier Baez and the Cubs, and contributed to the team reaching the top of the World Series after 108 years. That year, Russell was also named an All-Star.
However, Russell could no longer perform as well as he did in 2016. In 2018, the number of home runs dropped sharply (12 in 2017 → 5 in 2018), and he was suspended for 40 games for domestic violence charges. In 2019, his standing narrowed as he failed to play in more than 100 games for the first time since his big league debut.
Russell, who was looking for a new team, was caught on the radar network of Kiwoom, who was worried about foreign hitters. Ahead of the 2020 season, Kiwoom had to find a replacement foreign hitter as Taylor Motor, who wore a Kiwoom uniform, left a sluggish performance. Even at the time of the announcement of Russell’s recruitment, it was evaluated as ‘the best ever’ in terms of name value.
Perhaps it was because his expectations were too high, he recorded 62 hits in 244 at-bats, a batting average of 0.254, 2 homers, 31 RBIs, and an OPS of 0.653 in 65 games, including a home game against the Doosan Bears on July 28, 2020, which was his debut in the KBO League. In the end, Kiwoom gave up on renewing the contract with Russell.
After that, Russell played two seasons in the Mexican League. He didn’t have bad grades. In particular, in the previous season, last year, 80 games, 279 at bats, 97 hits, a batting average of 0.348, 24 homers, 74 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.120 were satisfactory.
Kiwoom also paid attention to this part. Even considering the difference in league level, he was convinced that Russell, who improved his slugging power, could produce different results from 2020. Kiwoom expects Russell to take on an axis of the central batting line.
He also has high expectations on defense. Last year, young infielders such as Shin Jun-woo and Kim Hwi-jip took over the position of starting shortstop, which was assigned to Russell. It is expected that he will contribute to strengthening the team’s center line by forming a keystone combination with Kim Hye-sung.
According to Statties, a site specializing in KBO league records, Kiwoom’s team shortstop errors last year were 28, tied for third with Lotte Giants after Samsung Lions (33) and Doosan (29). Even during the postseason, Kiwoom’s shortstop concerns continued. If Russell digests a lot of defensive innings with a sense of stability, he can be a little less worried.
While Kiwoom is in the process of spring camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, Russell is also in the midst of training by joining the team in the United States. In particular, what surprised everyone was the ‘bulking up’, which is much bigger than when he came to the KBO League in 2020. Attention is focusing on whether Russell, who has changed his body and mindset, will recover his pride.