Preps Talk

Kaplan: Struggles continue for Mitchell in Birmingham

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Kaplan: Struggles continue for Mitchell in Birmingham

Coming off of five consecutive wins and two straight one-hitters, everyone in the Charlotte Knights organization was ready to label Terry Doyle the ace going into the second half of the season. But that will not be the case. Doyle requested his release from the Triple-A White Sox affiliate last week. He will be joining the Japanese powerhouse and defending champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
This may come as a surprise to some, but it makes perfect sense. Doyle found his groove in May and early June and this is the perfect opportunity for him to take his services elsewhere while his stock is high. Earlier this season, Sox scouts made it clear to Doyle that the chances of him ever seeing time at the major league level were slim to non-existent. He signed a three year deal with a guaranteed 500K salary for 2012, a team option for 2013 and a mutual option for 2014. The move to Japan will not only triple Doyles salary, it will give him some sort of stable plan for the future that few players find at the minor league level.
After serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug Stanozolol, Andre Rienzo made his return on Saturday in Birmingham. Any time your name is linked to steroids, controversy will follow but Rienzo has atoned for his mistake and made it clear that he wants to move on and get back to what he does best: playing baseball.
The 23-year-old right-hander made his Double-A debut last week, and he looked rusty to say the least. His time away from the game was evident in his shaky approach and uncomfortable presence on the mound. He went 3.1 innings, and allowed one run on three hits. His main problem was locating his pitches as he walked five batters in his brief starting appearance. His uneasiness on the mound should not come as a surprise but it will be interesting to see if Rienzo bounces back in the second half of the season.
As another week passes the Jared Mitchell saga continues, as does his downward spiral. The wildly athletic outfielder had another week that he would soon like to forget. Over a five-game span, Mitchell only tallied two hits in 19 at bats (.105). He added six strikeouts to his season total that now sits at 83, one behind the league leader. His .310 OPS and .169 average against left-handers are starting to make me think maybe this kid just does not have the stuff to cut it at the major league level. Mitchell needs to find an answer, and it needs to be found fast. I know he is still young, but lets not forget the clock never stops ticking.
Winston-Salem clinched the Carolina League Southern Division first half championship, which guarantees them a spot in the playoffs in September. The Dash's 43-25-1 record is good enough for third best in all of High-A baseball. Their early success is largely due to the efforts of Trayce Thompson and Jake Petrika.
Although Thompson has struggled as of late, he is still finding ways to contribute when his team is most in need. Last week he was only 3-for-20 (.150) but also delivered two clutch home runs. Thompson needs to figure out a way to be more efficient at the plate and limit his strikeouts (nine last week). His clutch performances are helping his team win games but it will not be enough to move him through the system.
Petrika toed the rubber for one start last week and was awarded another no decision. He only went five innings, gave up four runs on eight hits and struck out five. He allowed a .381 average against which is much too high for a pitcher trying to go deep into a game. Petrika has been average with glimpses of brilliance this season, and if he can find a groove I think he can hold his own in Double-A when he is called up.
Rangel Ravelo is frustrated and you cant really blame the guy. In four games last week Ravelo was 2-for-15 (.133) with one RBI. What the stat sheet does not tell you is how he is spraying the ball all over the field. Ravelo did not strike out last week and has only fanned once in the last10 games. He is putting the ball in play but simply cannot find a hole in the defense. The only thing a professional can do in this situation is keep swinging the bat, and sooner or later the ball will start to find green grass.

High School Lites features several teams with long winning streaks

High School Lites features several teams with long winning streaks

High School Lites is focused on the small schools this week as the show sticks with Class 1A and Class 2A teams that you need to get familiar with before the state tournament. The show has some long winning streaks to keep an eye on as teams with 15, 14, 13 and 12-game winning streaks will all be featured on Friday night.

Be sure to catch an all-new edition of High School Lites on Friday on 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.

Thursday

Fenger at Corliss, 6:30 p.m. -- We head to the Public League White-South for this one as Corliss hosts Fenger. Corliss (16-2, 7-0) is riding a 14-game winning streak as they've only lost to one Illinois opponent this season. Senior big man George Conditt is a major All-Area threat as the Iowa State commit is putting up massive numbers. Fenger (8-7, 2-5) has dropped three straight games as they try to earn a win over a rival to get back in the conference mix.

Friday

Aurora Christian at Mooseheart, 7:30 p.m. -- Undefeated Aurora Christian heads to Northeastern Athletic rival Mooseheart in this one. The Eagles (15-0, 5-0) are the only unbeaten team left in the area as they feature senior guard Jake Wolfe, an All-Area candidate and Lipscomb commit. Mooseheart (8-2, 4-1) is also in the midst of a solid season as they had an easy win over Alden-Hebron in their last game. 

Alden-Hebron at Westminster Christian, 7:30 p.m. -- Staying in the Northeastern Athletic, Westminster Christian hosts Alden-Hebron. The Warriors (13-3, 5-0) have won three straight games, including an important win over Mooseheart that helped keep them tied for first place with Aurora Christian. Alden-Hebron (2-13, 1-4) wil try to earn its first win in over a month.

Burlington Central at Marengo, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the Kishwaukee Valley play here. Marengo (10-5, 1-1) is coming off a 10-day layoff after beating Genoa-Kingston on the road. Burlington Central (16-2, 3-0) has won 13 straight games as they won the Plano Christmas Classic and their own Martin Luther King event. 

Crane at Collins, 5:00 p.m. -- Two unbeatens collide in the Public League White-South in this one. Collins (11-5, 7-0) has won three of its last four as they held off Jones for a win earlier this week. Crane (11-8, 7-0) is also hot as they've won three straight games heading into this one, as they also got a win earlier this week over Clemente. 

Momence at Watseka, 7:30 p.m. -- A matchup of unbeatens teams in the Sangamon Valley in this one. Watseka (13-5, 2-0) has won four straight games as they look to take the lead in the conference. Momence (14-2, 3-0) had an 11-game winning streak snapped when they lost to Herscher on the road. 

Northridge at Latin, 6:00 p.m. -- The Independent School League's top two teams do battle in this one. Latin (12-6, 5-1) is trying to catch up with Northridge for the conference lead as they just had a major test against Niles North in a non-conference loss. Northridge (12-5, 6-0) is coming off a win earlier this week against Morgan Park Academy as they 

Beecher at St. Anne, 7:00 p.m. -- The River Valley is one of the most hotly-contested conference races in the area, as four teams sit within one game of first place. St. Anne (8-8, 5-1) currently leads the league over three other teams as they've won four of the their last five games. Beecher (9-11, 4-2) gave St. Anne its only conference loss with a 52-44 win on Nov. 30 at home. Now the Bobcats see if they can pick up the season sweep on the road.  

Christ The King at Hope Academy, 7:30 p.m. -- A Chicago Prep Red conference game in this one. Hope Academy (15-4, 1-0) has won seven of its last eight as they're one of the better small schools in the city. Christ the King (10-7, 1-1) is coming off a win over Eisenhower earlier this week as they try to gain a game on Hope Academy in the league standings. 

Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week

Ellison at Northtown, 6:30 p.m. -- Our Viewers' Choice Game of the Week heads to the Chicago Prep Black as two conference unbeatens play. Northtown (13-4, 1-0) has won 12 straight games since a 1-4 start as they haven't lost since Nov. 30. Ellison (9-10, 2-0) has won two straight games as they try to take the conference lead. These two teams also play a second conference game at Ellison later this season on Feb. 5.

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, 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.”

And that approach — moreso than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great.