Cubs

Carmel's Young a pitcher to watch

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Carmel's Young a pitcher to watch

According to editorpublisher Sean Duncan of Chicago-based Prep Baseball Report, Carmel pitcher Alex Young "has jumped up and is high interest now" among major league scouts. "The pros are on him," Duncan said.Young, a 6-foot-3 lefty with a 92 mph fastball and a knee-buckling knuckle curve, caught the scouts' attention for the first time last summer and has kept them coming back to see more, especially after he struck out eight of nine batters he faced in the spring season opener against Warren."His fate will be sealed in the next month," said Duncan, predicting more and more scouts will be evaluating him. Young has been told he could be picked as high as the third round in the major league draft on June 4 while others claim he won't be selected among the first 300 picks."It is intimidating to see (the scouts) behind the plate, 25 radar guns going off with every pitch," Young said. "But I don't pay attention. I just focus on the catcher's mitt and waiting for the pitch call. I feel calm."For now, I'm off to college. But if I get drafted high and the money is there, I won't pass it up. My parents want me to get my education. I'm set on college at the moment."Young, who is committed to Texas Christian, attracted 25 scouts for his start against Libertyville and likely will command a similar audience when he starts Wednesday against Joliet Catholic. He thinks he is as good a prospect as Mundelein pitcher Ryan Borucki and he wants to prove it.A year ago, however, nobody knew who he was and nobody with a bat in his hand dared to find out. "Last year, he didn't have control. You didn't want to be anywhere near home plate when he was pitching. He was wild," said Carmel coach Joe May."I had a mentality where I wanted to strike everyone out and it didn't work," Young said. "I've overthrow everything. In my first game, I walked six batters in one inning."Young also had health issues. "Coming into the season, I was known as the 'Big Horse.' But I struggled in my first game. Then I had elbow pains. I sat out a month with tendonitis. Then the coach found one or two other pitchers and I was out of the loop. I didn't have a chance to pitch, only five innings. I played outfield and designated hitter. It was a down year for me. You don't think about it and you move forward," he said.But he was eager to bounce back as a senior. His comeback began last winter with daily drills at a local training facility. He pitched bullpen once a week, engaged in long toss with Carmel teammate and close friend J.C. Pawlak and did J-bands, a series of aerobic exercises designed to add strength and flexibility to the arm."My goal was to have command of all of my pitches in the strike zone," said Young, who also worked with Carmel pitching coach Mike Miller. "He said to me: 'This is the year for you. We're riding on you.' He got me pumped up."During the summer, he began to attract college coaches to his games. They informed major league scouts that they should evaluate him. In July, he was among the 50 top pitchers in the Midwest invited by the Midwest Scouting Association to participate in a showcase event in Kansas City. TCU saw him and offered a scholarship in October. He accepted."Whenever you hit 90 on a radar gun and you're a lefty, it will turn heads. And he did," May said. "What we love about him is he will throw his curve in any pitch count. It's a big-time curve, 10 to 5. I'm not surprised he is doing this well. I knew he had it in him."In three games, Young has allowed only two hits and only one earned run while averaging two strikeouts per inning. While his fastball catches the eyes and radar guns of the scouts--he was timed at a personal-best 93 mph against Warren--he insists his go-to pitch is his knuckle curve."I started throwing it in seventh grade," he said. "For some reason, I couldn't throw a curve. But I could throw a knuckle curve. Not too many high school kids throw it. So batters haven't seen it before. People don't know whether to call it a curve or a slurve. It breaks with a 10-to-5 action, a really sharp break."It figures that Young's role model is Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, another lefty who struggled early in his career before he found a way to control his overpowering fastball and curve."He struggled early. Then he proved people wrong, said 'I can do whatever I want," became the best lefty in major league baseball and got to the Hall of Fame," Young said. "Thats the perception that people have of lefties, that they are sometimes out of control. I want to prove them wrong, too."Young has a more immediate goal. Because he competes in the same town as Mundelein lefty Ryan Borucki, who is judged by Prep Baseball Report as the No. 1 prospect in Illinois, Young is determined to demonstrate that he is as good as Borucki."I think I'm equally as good," Young said. "Both of us have command of our pitches. I've seen him pitch personally. I feel my curve has more break than his does. But his changeup is nasty. I was in Marion when he threw his no-hitter against Cary-Grove. I got there in the sixth inning and he was sitting guys down. No one could touch him. But I think I'm just as good."Time will tell, of course. "Borucki is a bit more of a pitcher than a thrower. Alex can throw the heck out of it. He is becoming more of a pitcher. What I like is he has developed into a leader on our team," said May, a 1978 graduate of Carmel who once played for Eddie Stanky at South Alabama."My fastball has been climbing. I'm still getting up there on the radar gun," Young said. "But that's not what it is all about. It's about getting first-pitch strikes. I walked the first batter in my first game, then struck out eight of the next nine. I'm keeping my walks down. That's a huge factor for me."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: