Q&A with James Russell

Russell (PHOTO/SCOTT JONTES)

James Russell experienced the highs and lows of a minor league pitching prospect in 2008.

Russell began the year at Class High-A Daytona on a roll, posting a 2.30 ERA in his first five starts to coincide with a promotion to Class AA Tennessee. After early success at Double-A, the left-hander went into a mid-season funk at Tennessee and eventually was sent back to Daytona to close the year.

He finished the season 6-10 with a 5.45 ERA in 127-plus innings. InsideTheIvy.com caught up with our No. 15 ranked Cubs prospect entering the 2009 season.

Lets talk about the season you had, starting off well in Daytona and getting called up to Tennessee. Were you happy with the season you had? I know the numbers at Tennessee weren't what you'd have liked.

JAMES RUSSELL: I never expected to get up to Double-A and I was happy to be there. It didn't go as well as I'd have liked, but I got to see what it was like to be on top at High-A. I had a good couple of outings in Double-A and then I got to feel what it was like to struggle.

Can that be a good thing?

JAMES RUSSELL: You don't want to struggle, but it's always good because … I don't want to struggle next year, but if I hit that stretch where I start to struggle again, I can go back to last year and remember what I did to get out of that rut.

From what you were able to ascertain, what was the big difference in the two levels?

JAMES RUSSELL: They're more patient (at Double-A) and location is the key. Everything revolves around location.

With your dad being a former big league pitcher and you having worked with guys like Kenny Rogers, Darren Oliver and Tom House, have you worked with any of them this off-season and had them analyze you?

JAMES RUSSELL: No, I haven't really started throwing yet. I'm not sure what Kenny is doing and whether he's returning this year or not. I'd like to work with him. He's a guy that's helped me a lot. I always see Darren Oliver a lot and I imagine I'll be throwing with him a little bit.

Everyone knows about your changeup, and some have said it's the best such pitch in the farm system. But your curveball has been a work in progress. How has the development gone there?

JAMES RUSSELL: Me and Dave Rosario, our High-A coach, we worked on it a bunch and we pretty much got it to where I want it to be. We've got it working pretty good and I'm very comfortable with it.

What type of grip do you use, and what type of break do you have, et cetera?

JAMES RUSSELL: We're going for more of a hard slurve. My last couple of outings it was 74 to 78 (mph), and I want to get it to where I can throw it about 78 or 80.

How about the rest of your repertoire?

JAMES RUSSELL: In that bad stretch I had, I kind of lost my changeup and a little command with my fastball. Once I got back to High-A, we worked on it and tuned everything up. Now I'm excited about next year.

Speaking of next year, do you have an inclination as to where you'll be headed to start the season?

JAMES RUSSELL: I'm hoping to go back to Double-A. You never know until they send you off.

You've been a starter throughout your career. Do you see yourself staying in that role?

JAMES RUSSELL: I love starting, but if it came to me getting to the big leagues, I'd be more than happy to go to relief. Anything to get me there, I'll do it.

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