Bulls

Cubs minor-league roundup

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Cubs minor-league roundup

While Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continue to build for the future lets take a look at this weeks minor league report

It was business as usual this week for Anthony Rizzo, going about his work as he has in the recent past. Pounding towering home runs over the fence and driving runs in at will, causing Cubs fans to salivate at the thought of their future first baseman doing the same at Wrigley Field.

But then Tuesday happened.

A pop up was hit into foul territory and Rizzo gave chase with a full head of steam. The future slugger slid to avoid crashing into the fence, but it was too late. Rizzo slid knee-first into the wall and the Cubs faithful collectively held their breath. Ultimately, Rizzo walked off the field under his own power with what is being called a knee contusion.

He is listed as day-to-day. The injury could not have come at a worse time because before his run-in with fence, Rizzo was arguably hotter than he has been all year. He went 11-for-28 (.392) on the week with six runs, 10 RBIs and five home runs, including back-to-back games with two round trippers. Rizzos injury shouldnt be a long-term concern but it does create some angst amongst Cubs fans. The day of his call up is inching closer though and it couldnt come soon enough.

Brett Jackson began his climb back to top prospect form two weeks ago, but took a small step back this past week. He went 7-for-28 (.250) with three RBIs, all coming off his only home run of the week. The alarming statistic was Jacksons 10 strikeouts. Striking over a third of the time you come to the plate is not going to help when you are trying to grind back to hitting .300.

Luckily, his mediocre week only resulted in a two-point drop in average (.259). Pretty soon, Rizzo is going to get his call and there will be a large void of run production that will need to be filled in Iowa. Jackson must view this as an opportunity and have a stellar second half, proving to Cubs management that he will be an integral part of their plan for the future.

The Double A Tennessee Smokies had a productive week as a team, going 5-1. A number of these wins wouldnt have been possible if it were not for the efforts of rising star Junior Lake. Lake saw minimal action this week, appearing in only three games, but when he had the bat in his hands, he delivered. He went 5-for-12 (.417) with one home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. Lake appears to be doing everything in his power to be a part of Theos equation a few years down the line. If he continues to mature and produce, he should be right on schedule.

Trey McNutt was a tale of two starts this week. If you looked at the stat line alone, it would seem as if two completely different pitchers showed up. In his first start, McNutt went 5.2 innings and gave up no runs on three hits. He struck out three on his way to a dominant win. The right-hander looked like he was finding his groove coming off another win five days earlier.

His second start of the week suggested otherwise, though. McNutts outing was short lived, as he lasted only 3.1 innings. In this short workday, he was touched up for nine runs on nine hits, including a home run. McNutt is a glaring example of the ebb and flow that is minor league baseball.

The Daytona Cubs have been struggling to find the bright side of anything as of late. They are five games under .500 and sit 12 games back in the division. Frankly, Matt Loosen does not let his teams record affect his preparation. He takes the mound every start with the same attitude and that is to do whatever it takes to win. And thats exactly what he did this week as Loosen was 2-0.

He pitched a total of 11.2 innings, giving up only 5 hits and no runs over the two-game span. He struck out six in his first start and seven in his second. He is now 5-1 on the season with a 2.63 ERA. If Loosen continues to absolutely shut teams down in this fashion, he should be expecting a promotion very soon.

Javier Baez is still getting comfortable in his role as a professional baseball player and that is a process that takes time. Coming off a successful first week-and-a-half, Baez hit a bit of a speed bump this week. He was 3-for-20 (.150) in six games played. Baez had one RBI and five strikeouts. It is weeks like this that test a young players mental toughness.

There is no denying Baezs talent but it will be exciting to see how he responds to his recent struggles.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”