Cubs

2011 CSN Sports Awards a smashing success

2011 CSN Sports Awards a smashing success

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011Posted: 1:10 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

It was an annual Night to Remember in Chicago sports, for many, many reasons.

WATCH: Steve Dahl's intro to the CSN Sports Awards

At the Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards, benefitting the March of Dimes and presented by Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning at the Hilton Chicago Monday night, there was Bull of the Year Taj Gibson taking a moment to honor his grandfather who passed away two days ago.

I want to say I love you, Gibson said. Be with me in spirit.

Chicago Fire rookie goaltender Sean Johnsons mother made the trip from Georgia to see her son honored, and he bestowed one on her as well.

Shes been there for the 21 years of my life, by my side, Johnson said. So shes my Valentine tonight and I just want to say I love you.

Before a sellout crowd of 1,000, inspirational athlete of the year Jonathon Ruiz, consigned at age 11 to a wheelchair by spinal bifida but a gold medal winner at the inaugural Paralympics Youth Games in Australia last October, had the simplest yet most powerful of messages:

Never take anything in life, or life itself, for granted, Jonathon said.
WATCH: Jonathan Ruiz's emotional speech

Lifetime achievement award winner Ozzie Guillen marveled at the difficulties involved in playing every other sport except baseball, but brought Jonathan back on stage for a special commendation.

Jonathon, you are a bad man, Guillen declared, then went a level up from that, for Jonathons parents Marissa and John: But your Mom and Dad, they are even badder than you.
READ: More on Jonathan Ruiz's compelling story

Guillen was honored for what presenter David Kaplan of Comcast SportsNet cited as the only baseball championship for Chicago in a combined, two-team span of 190 years.

If you want your dream to come true, Guillen said, you just have to wake up.

WATCH: Classic Ozzie being Ozzie during speech

Among those receiving awards:

White Sox of the Year--Gordon Beckham

Besides batting .310 over the second half of the 2010 season and finishing fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, Beckham also initiated Out of the park for Parkinsons, a fundraising campaign in tribute to his grandfather to benefit the National Parkinsons Foundation. The efforts raised 60,000 in the campaigns first year.

The lives that March of Dimes has affected, saved, is pretty astounding, Beckham said. Its an honor to be here. Im honored and humbled to be the White Sox recipient of this award this year.

Bear of the Year--Israel Idonije

Idonije may not have been part of a victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game but he is an unqualified winner on a far bigger stage. The Bears defensive end was one of the three finalists for the NFLs Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work with the children and needy in Nigeria through the Israel Idonije Foundation.

And Monday he was named the Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning Bear of the Year for 2010.

Ive just been extremely blessed, Idonije said. Its an honor to receive this on behalf of an incredible group of people that allow us to do the work in our community. Tonight really symbolizes what community is all about.

Navistar Chicago Cub of the Year--Marlon Byrd

Byrd has played in a Major League All-Star game but Monday night was a new, slightly daunting experience for him.

Ive never been to a live awards dinner before, Byrd said, so this is a little like the Grammys.

The Cubs outfielder sponsors a team through the Union League Boys & Girls Club of Chicago to provide opportunities for inner-city children to play baseball. Byrd also meets with kids at Wrigley Field in conjunction with the Taylor Hooton Foundations Hoots Chalk Talk program to develop awareness of the dangers of drug use.

This is something that hits home for my wife and me, Byrd said. Weve got a three-year-old and a five-year-old so I understand what the March of Dimes is doing and trying to do.

We athletes are getting to live our dreams and the March of Dimes is helping the kids live their dreams as well.

Fire of the Year--Sean Johnson

The weather in Chicago may have mellowed lately but it is still not what it is in Florida where Johnsons team was this week. So there was some justice done when one of Johnsons teammates textd him from Florida while Johnson was up here to receive the award as Fire of the Year.

WATCH: Sarah Kustok chats with honorees

My teams actually traveling in south Florida and my roommate texted me that they landed and how nice the weather was, 80 degrees and tropical, said Johnson, who made time in his rookie season to begin work with the Chicago Fire Foundation on grants and contributions to Chicago organizations.

Twenty minutes later, he texted me and said the bus on the way to the hotel had a flat tire.

Johnny Red KerrNorm Van Lier Bull of the Year--Taj Gibson

The Bulls forward who was selected to the NBAs All-Rookie first team has reached out beyond the court to make a difference. Gibson has become involved in efforts by the Chicago Public Schools to promote the Back-to-School campaign to get kids back in school. He also was part of the NBAs basketball without borders program in Asia and he has worked with the Red Cross on disaster relief.

Hes also gotten past a touch of shyness, with some help.

Im just blessed, Gibson said. Id like to thank my teammates for giving me the courage every day. As you can see, Im really a shy guy. But just playing with them every day has given me the strength to come out and represent the Chicago Bulls.

Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers Blackhawk of the Year--Duncan Keith

The Stanley Cup Champions were represented Monday by Keith, an Olympic gold medalist in addition to winning the James Norris trophy, who addressed some of the skittishness facing fans because of the shaky playoff chances for the Blackhawks.

I dont want anybody counting us out just yet, Keith said. Were not done yet, thats for sure.

Master of Ceremonies Steve Dahl had his own leading indicator that the Blackhawks are not planning on ending their season at only 82 games.

I firmly believe the Blackhawks will be in the playoffs, Dahl said, with a glance toward Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz sitting nearby, because today Rocky sent me an invoice for playoff tickets.

WATCH: Jim Cornelison closes out ceremony by singing the anthem

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wants more than just the playoffs, however. The championship season gave him a taste of what winning a title in Chicago can be like.

The best part was that parade and how everybody enjoyed it, Quenneville said. It was so much fun that wed love to do it again, and real soon.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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.”

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.