Cubs Prospect Interview: James Russell

Over the years, James Russell has had quite a bit of wisdom and tutelage at his disposal. In addition to being the son of former big league pitcher Jeff Russell, the 22-year-old left-hander has also received advice from the likes of former major league pitching coach Tom House, and big league pitchers Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver.

Russell, a 14th-round Cubs draft pick from the University of Texas in 2007, made his pro debut a season ago. He spent one season on campus in Austin following a two-year stay at Navarro Junior College in Texas and finished 8-4 with a 3.86 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings in his only season with the Longhorns.

While he made just three starts in the Cubs' system last summer, Russell put up zeros over nine total innings between the Arizona Rookie League and Class-A Peoria. He allowed three hits to go with 11 strikeouts.

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The one thing the Cubs say you need to develop right now is your curveball. How has the work gone so far?

JAMES RUSSELL: It's gone good. Before I signed, I went and worked with Tom House in San Diego. He used to be the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers when my dad was playing there. I worked with him and kind of got the pitch to where I was comfortable with it and I think it's worked out pretty well. Mainly, I'm just trying to find a grip that I'm comfortable with and something that I can repeat throughout the game so that I can have a consistent break. I'm also trying to make it a little harder break instead of having a slow break. One thing Tom House told me to do was to keep it the same plane as my fastball and changeup.

How else has Coach House tutored you?

RUSSELL: He helped me quicken up out of the stretch. I've never really had trouble holding runners, but I don't have that great a pickoff move.

What are some of the other things you've been working on since arriving to camp?

RUSSELL: I've just been working on being consistent and trying to get to where I can throw all three of my pitches – fastball, curveball and changeup – for strikes.

You worked with Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver this off-season. How were you able to pick their brains?

RUSSELL: Kenny Rogers told me something I hadn't heard. He told me that while pitching, he doesn't really go max effort the whole game. That kind of set in with me a little bit and I noticed how that might help, not only in a long-term career but in helping you spot up a little better and in keeping your arm a little healthier. He's been playing for a long time and if I could have his career, I'd be more than happy.

Your out-pitch is the changeup and Jim Callis of Baseball America even called it the best in the system. What about the pitch makes it your bread-and-butter?

RUSSELL: To tell you the truth, I have no clue. It's just one of those pitches I've always been comfortable with throughout my baseball career. My dad kind of taught it to me a while ago and I've stuck with it since.

With your dad playing in the big leagues for so long, did you know at a young age that you wanted to play pro ball yourself?

RUSSELL: Yeah, baseball has always been my sport. As a kid, I never wanted to do anything else but play baseball. My parents always thought my younger brother was going to be the baseball player, but it turned out differently. He goes to school at Oklahoma and plays lacrosse there.

Being that you signed close to the deadline a year ago, were you disappointed not to get more innings at the pro level?

RUSSELL: I was happy with the experience I got. If you count my college innings, I probably had about 120 innings. I'm used to the long season, but it's going to be different with this being my first (pro) season, and hopefully it's not that demanding on my arm. It shouldn't be; I've been working out pretty good this spring and I think it's prepared me enough for it.

Is Peoria where you expect to begin the year?

RUSSELL: I'm not really sure. I'm just trying to do the best I can in Spring Training so that hopefully I'll maybe go even higher. If I go back to Peoria, it's fine with me. If I don't and go to Daytona, that would be especially awesome. I've heard it's a good pitchers league.

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