Cubs

Evans, Weishar lead Class of 2014

634676.png

Evans, Weishar lead Class of 2014

The class of 2014 may not measure up to 1985, the gold standard of recruiting classes ever produced in the Chicago area. And it might not even compare to the class of 2013. But this year's sophomores show plenty of promise -- and they have two years to get even better.

By then, everybody -- analysts, college recruiters, media, fans -- should be able to correctly spell the first name of Parrker Westphal, Bolingbrook's outstanding cornerback. That's right, P-A-R-R-K-E-R.

"Everybody drops one of the r's, even our school's registrar," Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow said. "Nobody believes his name is spelled with two r's. We sent our roster to the Illinois High School Association for the official program in the state finals and they changed it, too."

Westphal made a name for himself -- no matter how you choose to spell it -- in Bolingbrook's victory over unbeaten and top-ranked Loyola in the Class 8A final, constantly harassing Loyola's wide receivers, and Ivlow predicts he will be a genuine Division I recruit as a senior.

But tackle Shane Evans of newly crowned Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge and wide receiver Nic Weishar of Marist already had established their reputations. They are popular choices as the 1-2 players in the class of 2014. But the list is long and distinguished.

Evans, a 6-4, 255-pound offensive tackle, was a full-time starter as a freshman and started all 14 games for Prairie Ridge's state championship team last fall.

"We always run to his side," coach Chris Schremp said. "He is a great run blocker. He can move people. As a senior, he could be the best lineman ever to come out of the Fox Valley."

Weishar, a 6-5, 205-pounder, caught 77 passes for 1,160 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall. He has been offered by Illinois and Northwestern and Notre Dame has expressed interest.

Others who already are attracting interest from Division I colleges are Glenbard North running backdefensive back Justin Jackson, Joliet Catholic tackle J.B. Butler, Kaneland quarterback Drew David, Bishop McNamara linebacker Robbie Odeneal, Naperville Central quarterback Zach Kolbe, Hinsdale Central wide receiver Ian Bunting, St. Rita defensive end Eddie Randle and Stevenson safety Matt Morrissey.

David, a 5-11, 165-pounder, could emerge as the most prolific passer in state history if he stays healthy for the next two years. As a sophomore, he passed for 3,306 yards and 39 touchdowns for a 12-1 state semifinalist. He also was academic all-state.

Rich Zinanni, Bishop McNamara's veteran coach who recorded his 300th career victory in 2011, said linebacker Robbie Odeneal is "one of the best players I have coached in 37 years," comparing him to former McNamara stars Tyjuan Hagler, Thomas Guynes and Kurt Belisle.

Two sophomores who missed the top 20 list but definitely are on the short list of the leading prospects in the class are linebacker Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and offensive lineman Logan Plantz of Providence.

Top 20 (Class of 2014)

1. Shane Evans, Prairie Ridge, OT
2. Nic Weishar, Marist, WR
3. Justin Jackson, Glenbard North, RBDB
4. J.B. Butler, Joliet Catholic, OT
5. Drew David, Kaneland, QB
6. Robbie Odeneal, Bishop McNamara, LB 7. Jake Kolbe, Naperville Central, QB 8. Ian Bunting, Hinsdale Central, WR 9. Eddie Randle, St. Rita, DE 10. Matt Morrissey, Stevenson, DB 11. Corey Davis, Wheaton Warrenville South, WR 12. Jake VandeMerkt, Riverside-Brookfield, QB 13. Nyles Morgan, Crete-Monee, LB 14. Desean Brown, Naperville North, RB 15. Ryan Graham, Wheaton Warrenville South, QB 16. Mikael Wilbon, De La Salle, RB 17. Parrker Westphal, Bolingbrook, DB 18. Jesse Balluff, Kaneland, RB 19. Tommy Mister, Richards, QB 20. Anthony Thielk, Batavia, RB

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

adbert_alzolay.jpg
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.

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

quenton-nelson.jpg
USA TODAY

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

In the aptly-named mock drafts to this point, this reporter has posited the Bears selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. That’s not the complete story, however. There’s a “problem.”

The landscape: The Bears currently sit at No. 8 overall; Nelson is rated among the best prospects, regardless of position, in the 2018; Nelson is the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft; the Bears have an immediate need on the interior of their offensive line (at guard or center, depending upon where where the new coaching staff slots Cody Whitehair); and among the prime directives for GM Ryan Pace is the protection of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And full disclosure: This reporter does see Nelson to the Bears, just not at No. 8, and presumably if the Bears do not address the post-Josh Sitton situation in free agency.

But there’s a problem. A couple, actually, and having nothing to do specifically with Nelson.

The “problem” centers (no pun intended) around his position: Guard.

Guards do not typically come off the board within the first 10 picks of drafts. Worse for guards, when they do, they don’t work out well. In the last five drafts, only two guards were selected within the first 10 picks, both in the 2013 draft, both (Jonathan Cooper, No. 7; Chance Warmack, No. 10) already undistinguished and both already on their second teams.

Great guards are indeed to be found in first rounds. But relevant NFL history says that they do not come early. Selectively, to wit:

Player Drafted Year
David DeCastro 24 2012
Alan Faneca* 26 1998
Steve Hutchinson* 17 2001
Kyle Long 20 2013
Zack Martin 16 2014

* 2017 Hall of Fame semifinalist

Meaning: Assuming the Bears do not spend starter money in free agency on the like of Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton or (insert UFA name here). Parenthetically on the draft-value aspect of good guards, Norwell was undrafted, Pugh was the 2013 pick just ahead Long, as a tackle, and Fulton was a sixth-rounder.

Pace predilections: “stat” players

Pace is in desperate need of impact players in both the draft and free agency. A guard is simply not in the “impact” vein as Pace’s first three No. 1 draft picks, all top-10’ers and all with something in common that a guard does not bring: stats.

Stats themselves aren’t the point, and an elite offensive lineman contributes to the stats of everyone else on his unit. But 2015 No. 1 Kevin White is a wide receiver; they catch passes and score touchdowns. Pace’s 2016 No. 1 was a rush-linebacker who generates sacks; Leonard Floyd. And 2017 No. 1 was Mitch Trubisky. All players with the potential for producing major-impact, game-changing stat plays.

Conversely, Pace’s New Orleans touchstone was an offensive line that protected Drew Brees with mid-rounders Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks at guard, and no offensive lineman drafted higher than the second round (Jon Stinchcomb).

Best guess, too, is that new head coach Matt Nagy, who’ll obviously be an intimate part of the draft process, will not be pounding the table for a guard, or perhaps for any offensive lineman with that first first-round pick of his tenure. The Kansas City Chiefs got just a so-so starting tackle (Eric Fisher) with the No. 1-overall pick of the 2013 draft while Nagy was there. And the very good Philadelphia Eagles teams took exactly one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round during Nagy’s years there (2008-12) with Andy Reid – and that pick was a guard (Danny Watkins) picked at No. 23, and who was a bust.

Conclusion: If Nelson is far, far and away the highest-graded player on the Bears’ draft board, Pace will make that move – if, and only if, Pace cannot trade down and add the picks that every GM craves as part of franchise-building, which is where the Pace-Nagy administration stands.