Bryant, Russell top list of Cubs prospects this spring

MESA, Ariz. (AP) Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are poised to become the latest Chicago Cubs prospects to break through to the big leagues.

A year after rookies Jorge Soler and Javier Baez showed some pop in the majors, Bryant and Russell are hoping to boost Chicago's infield.

The 23-year-old Bryant is rated among the top newcomers in baseball, having led all minor leaguers with a combined 43 home runs last season at Triple-A and Double-A. There's already talk the third baseman could be starting at Wrigley Field this year.

''Anyone in camp can make the team. That's why they're here. That's the benefit of earning an invitation to big league camp. You're on the major league radar screen. Anything can happen,'' Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

Among the issues in play for Bryant, he said, ''Defense at third base is a big one.''

''He's a great kid. We love everything about him. He's going to have a good spring training where he gets better. We'll see where we are at the end of spring training,'' Epstein said.

Bryant said he's been working to improve in all phases, ''not just my defense. But that seems to be the big one.''

''I've been working real hard at it. I think I've gotten a whole lot better from spring training last year. I'm excited to show them what I have,'' he said.

In particular, Bryant has been working on his backhand. At 6-foot-5, ''I have to stay low to the ground to get that groundball down the line,'' he said.

As for where he'll start the season, Bryant said, ''it's all speculation what everybody says. I'm kind of glad that it's not in my head because it would distract from my play on the field. I've always been the type to avoid distractions.''

Manager Joe Maddon has said Mike Olt and Bryant ''will be in the mix'' at third base, while Baez could get work there as well this spring.

The 21-year-old Russell was a first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics out of high school in 2012. The shortstop was the key to the midseason trade that sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's.

Russell played for three teams last year, mostly in Double-A, and hit .295.

He said he wouldn't mind returning to Double-A to start the season, adding, ''Triple-A is a totally new obstacle. I'd like to experience that.''

NOTES: Soler, who played in 24 games for the Cubs last season and is expected to start in right field this year, said he has bulked up to 242 pounds. He is listed at 225. Soler has had leg issues in the past, and the Cubs have suggested they will be careful with him this spring. But Soler, speaking through a translator, said, ''I feel great. I want to keep in my routine. I'm ready for 162 (games).''

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