White Sox

Cubs cant afford to swing and miss in this draft

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Cubs cant afford to swing and miss in this draft

SAN FRANCISCO Theo Epstein has called it the most important day of the year. Jason McLeod has described it as their Super Bowl.

But as much as Cubs executives respect Dale Sveums evaluation skills, and have promised that he will have a voice in shaping the teams identity, it doesnt do the manager much good right now.

More than 2,100 miles away from the draft room, Sveum sat down in his office late Sunday afternoon. He wasnt complaining or pointing fingers after a 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.

But its easier selling the future the draft starts Monday night than explaining away 15 losses in 18 games.

Its the same press conference every day, Sveum said. Its a broken record. I dont even know what to say to come up with something different.

Outside of Alfonso Sorianos three-run shot in the ninth on Friday night, the Cubs have scored one run in 26 innings here. Theyve scored a run in only nine of their last 81 innings on the road.

The Cubs (18-35) clearly need impact talent, and the organization has a lot riding on this draft. Through the first three rounds, they will be picking at Nos. 6, 43, 56, 67 and 101.

McLeod made a name for himself with the Boston Red Sox by choosing Dustin Pedroia out of Arizona State University at No. 65 in the 2004 draft, and watching him develop into American League MVP four years later. Jacoby Ellsbury McLeods first-round pick out of Oregon State University in 2005 nearly won that award last season.

Imagine someone like that in a lineup next to Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

Sveum has watched video of certain draft prospects to see how their swings and hands will translate to the next level. Last week at Wrigley Field, he also threw batting practice to Carlos Correa of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. But he hadnt really spoken to the front office in a few days.

Theyre in lockdown right now, Sveum said. Theres a lot going on in their life right now. (So) you do all your due diligence. You want that to be the right pick (and) you want to find those diamonds in the rough.

People dont even fathom how much stuff goes into that draft to make sure you find a few players that can impact the big-league team.

Travis Wood the 25-year-old left-hander acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade last winter allowed one run across seven strong innings.

Wood couldnt quite match Barry Zito, who left to a standing ovation in the ninth inning, and could have used some more help from his defense. Catcher Koyie Hill couldnt hold onto the ball during a play at the plate, and Soriano had trouble making a few plays out in left field on his bad knees.

The Cubs plan to get faster and more athletic and prioritize defense moving forward. But look at the organizations overall record in the minors (97-123 entering Sunday) and you know they need more power arms.

Pitching will definitely be a focus, McLeod said. Its not going to be a need-based pick, especially our first pick, but once we get past the first pick, it could be a pitcher.

It is something that were certainly going to try to address. It is a need for the organization. Were not going to overdraft pitching just because we need it. Its got to fit the criteria that were looking for in that area of the draft. (But) Id be really surprised if when the drafts over, (we dont) feel really good about the pitching.

The Giants (30-24) won their World Series in 2010 with a rotation built around first-round picks Matt Cain (No. 25 in 2002), Tim Lincecum (No. 10 in 2006) and Madison Bumgarner (No. 10 in 2007).

They were throwing to a franchise catcher in Buster Posey, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft. The eccentric closer Brian Wilson, a 24th-round pick in 2003, was waiting to run out for the ninth.

The Cubs can dream, but Sveum knows that there are no sure things in the draft.

Its like gambling, Sveum said. You take a shot and everybody agrees on this guy and that guy and, boom, you pick him. You wish that they pan out the way you grade them out.

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?

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USA TODAY

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.”