White Sox

At 75, St. Joseph's Pingatore keeps winning

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At 75, St. Joseph's Pingatore keeps winning

Reggie Johnson grew up on Chicago's West Side. He might have enrolled at Foreman. He was recruited by Mount Carmel and Providence-St. Mel. But his mother brought St. Joseph to his attention. After checking it out, he beat a path to Gene Pingatore's door in Westchester.

"I didn't know much about St. Joseph," Johnson said. "I asked around. I had friends who were planning to attend the school. I learned of the history. I knew that a lot of good basketball players had come out of there. I knew Isiah Thomas had gone there. I knew Demetri McCamey off the court. And I heard about coach Ping."

Now the 6'1 senior guard is well familiar with all of the great players in St. Joseph history. The pictures of the All-Staters are visible in the Hall of Fame located in the hallway outside the gym with special cases for Thomas, Daryl Thomas and Deryl Cunningham. And there is a picture of the 1999 state championship team.

"It would be nice to see my picture on that wall someday," said Johnson, who is committed to Tennessee State. "But I've never thought about it, to be honest. I have never been the type of person to look at those goals. It would be nice to win another state championship. That's the No. 1 goal. I think we can do it."

Pingatore thinks his current team can do it, too. Like Johnson, however, he thinks in terms of team, not numbers. In his 43rd season, he has won 875 games and figures to surpass the state record of 881 set by Rockford Boylan's Steve Goers, who retired last May.

"I'm not thinking about retirement," said Pingatore, who is 75. "Coaching still is fun. I've got a good group of kids, a good group coming up and another good group coming in.

"I don't think about numbers, just the groups I have. I want to have a successful year this year. I want to get better and make a run at state. I have no goal to reach 900, then retire. This could be a very good team at the end of the year."

St. Joseph was ranked among the top 20 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason, then lost to Schaumburg and highly rated Downers Grove South and dropped out. The Chargers are 3-2 going into Friday's game with De La Salle. Next week, they meet St. Rita, then have a Dec. 22 date with St. Patrick before making their annual trip to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

Last year, St. Joseph was 10-17. It was Pingatore's first losing season since 2001 and only his second losing season since 1976.

"It was frustrating. We were competitive but not good enough to win. We're not used to doing that," he said. "We had guard problems. And we faced the toughest schedule I have ever faced in all my years from a standpoint of quality opponents. Fifteen losses were to ranked teams."

The schedule isn't much easier this season but Pingatore is more optimistic. His team is young -- he starts two sophomores and a third sophomores comes off the bench at guard -- but he expects to be much better. "We will be pretty good by the end of the year if we develop chemistry with our young people," he said.

Johnson and 5-11 senior point guard Avery Harmon are the keys to success. "They will control our destiny," Pingatore said. Other starters are 6'8 junior A.J. Patty and two 6'5 sophomores, Paul Turner and Karriem Simmons. Others who will get significant playing time are 6'0 sophomore guard Michael Brooks, 6'3 junior Denzel Patton, 6'3 senior Jawaan Toney and 6'3 junior Ron Lewis.

The legacy is all around them. The big trophies are in the hallway -- 1999 state championship, 1978 state runner-up, 1987 third place, 1984 fourth place. The great players are still there, too. Daryl Thomas is the sophomore coach and Brandon Watkins is his assistant. Marlon London is the freshman coach.

"They believe in the system and what they were a part of and they are teaching it to the kids," Pingatore said. "I don't jump around as much as before. I can't because of my bad hip. But we all believe the system wins--motion offense, pressure man-to-man defense, running the ball, discipline on the court. We haven't changed our philosophy."

That's what Johnson experienced when he visited St. Joseph for the first time. "It was a very family oriented school. I came from a small middle school so it was an easy jump. All the kids got along. It was a nice place to be around. Everyone embraced me when I came here," he said.

St. Joseph is on every college coach's radar. If you are a college prospect, they'll find you. And it didn't take long for Tennessee State to notice Johnson.

"I didn't get much attention coming out of grade school. After my sophomore year, Tennessee State saw me in some July tournaments and they stayed with me strong," he said. "They made me feel I was part of their program even before I went there."

Last Sept. 3, on his official visit with his parents, Johnson chose the Nashville, Tennessee, school over Tennessee Tech, Ball State, California-Poly and Farleigh Dickinson.

"I had only met two coaches prior to my visit," he said. "But when I went there, I wanted to meet the players, to see how they would react to me. It was all about team and how to get better. I even met the school president, all the top people at the school. They showed me a lot, everything they could in two days. I was swept off my feet."

With recruiting out of the way, Johnson is concentrating on his senior season. He agrees with Pingatore. "This team can be very good at the end of the year," he said.

"Those two losses at Thanksgiving were learning moments for our team.
We're getting better every day. The best is yet to come for us. I'm learning how to lead the team to wins. As a senior, it falls on my shoulders from ball-handling to decision-making. I have to push myself every day to get better."

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”