Bears

Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 10:30 p.m.
CUBSPeoria A
Hayden Simpsons long-awaited professional debut was quite a success Thursday evening even if Mother Nature had the final say in Peorias season-opener against Cedar Rapids. The game was suspended heading into the ninth inning with the score tied 2-2 because of rain. It will be completed prior to Friday evenings game at OBrien Field.

Simpson, the 16th overall pick in last years draft, went 3 23 innings, striking out seven and walking one. He fanned the side in the third inning on 11 pitches with the only blemish on his evening coming in the fourth inning when he surrendered a solo homer to Brandon Decker. The former Division-II star didnt pitch last summer while recovering from mononucleosis.

Greg Rohan had a pair of hits and an RBI while Matt Szczur led off and had a double in four at-bats.

Iowa AAA
The I-Cubs used a healthy approach at the plate Thursday night to offset a shaky effort on the mound, pounding out 15 hits in a wild 12-9 victory over Round Rock in the season opener at The Dell Diamond.

Ty Wright homer, three RBIs, Bobby Scales and Lou Montanez three RBIs each had three hits while Bryan LaHair added a homer and three RBIs. Despite allowing five runs in three innings, Esmailin Caridad earned the victory in relief of Thomas Diamond, who allowed two runs on three hits and three walks in four innings.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies erupted for 17 hits, including a pair of homers, Thursday night to crush host Chattanooga, 12-4, in the season-opener for both teams.

Josh Vitters and Matthew Spencer solo homer each had three hits to lead the assault while Brett Jackson two RBIs, Ryan Flaherty two RBIs, Rebel Ridling homer, two RBIs and Steve Clevenger each added a pair of hits. Vitters missed much of the second half of last season with a broken hand after hitting .223 in 206 at-bats for Tennessee.

Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, earned the win after allowing three runs on four hits in five innings.
Daytona A
Matt Cerdas two-run, seventh-inning double proved to be the difference Thursday night as Daytona edged Brevard County, 3-2, at Space Coast Stadium in the season-opener for both teams.

Efrain Nieves had come on in relief for the Manatees and Cerda greeted him with a line drive to left. It was one of his team-leading three hits. Mike Burgess added a solo homer in the fifth as the Cubs began to claw their way out of a 2-0 hole.

Jeff Lorick earned the win with a pair of scoreless innings after starter Robert Whiteknack allowed two runs in five innings.

WHITE SOXBirmingham AA
The Barons didnt have many reasons to celebrate in 2010 but got some early partying in on Thursday as they squeaked out a 1-0 victory at Montgomery in the season-opener for both teams.

Dylan Axelrod earned the win, allowing two hits over five innings. He fanned eight and walked only one before the bullpen Nate Jones and Greg Infante combined to strike out four over four no-hit innings.

Birmingham only managed three hits but one of them was an Ozzie Lewis RBI single in the second inning. Brandon Short and Seth Loman were hit by pitches ahead of Lewis, who singled to left to bring in the games lone run.

Charlotte AAA
Stefan Gartrells RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted Charlotte to a 4-3 victory over Norfolk Thursday night in the season-opener for both clubs.

Dallas McPherson got the winning rally started with a one-out double before Gartrell stroked a liner to right field to bring in the winning run. Gookie Dawkins solo homer in the bottom of the seventh tied the score at 3-3, setting the stage for Gartrells heroics.

Jhonny Nunez took advantage of the rally to earn the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth while Brian Bruney turned the trick in the ninth, striking out a pair to earn the save. Lucas Harrell had started and allowed two runs on six hits over five innings. He fanned five and left after pitching to one batter in the sixth inning.

Alejandro De Aza, who hit .302 for Charlotte last season, had three hits and an RBI for the Knights.
Kannapolis A
Ryan Buch allowed only one hit in his six innings of work Thursday night but it proved to be just one hit too many. The big right-hander allowed a solo homer to Jim Murphy in the second inning and wound up on the losing end of the decision as a result after Lakewood topped Kannapolis, 2-0, in the season-opener at FirstEnergy Park.

Buch, who played his collegiate ball not far from Lakewood at Monmouth College, struck out four and didnt walk a batter. But the Intimidators managed only five hits, all coming off Lakewood starter Mario Hollands. The lack of offense proved to be too much to overcome as the Claws bullpen tossed four perfect innings.

Trayce Thompson had a double for the Intimidators.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

anthony_davis.jpg
AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”