MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter


MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter

SAN FRANCISCO The Toronto Blue Jays had won the World Series a few months earlier, and were on their way to winning another when they drafted Chris Carpenter with the 15th overall pick in the 1993 draft.

Two years later, the Blue Jays held the No. 17 pick and went with a tireless and disciplined high school kid who had been one of Colorados best cross-country runners at Arvada West outside Denver: Roy Halladay.

Tim Wilken, the Cubs amateur scouting director, was involved in both of those selections, part of the 25 seasons he spent in the Toronto organization, which became a model for player development under Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick.

If Carpenter hadnt signed with the Blue Jays, he was already committed to Creighton University to play for Jim Hendry, Wilkens childhood friend growing up in Florida and the future Cubs general manager.

This was a recruiter so aggressive and charming that they had a saying in Omaha, Neb., around the baseball offices: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.

Theyre all good baseball people, Carpenter said. They know what theyre doing.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are the new executives in charge at Clark and Addison, but the draft that begins Monday night will also be shaped by the scouts loyal to Wilken and Hendry, and they absolutely have to get it right.

Whether they wind up being frontline starters or late-inning relievers, the Cubs know they need more power arms.

Cubs fans and sometimes the people who draft them fall in love with prospects. But remember how long it took Halladay and Carpenter and even Jeff Samardzija to become difference-makers.

At the start of spring training, Samardzija turned around a question from a Boston reporter about what he knew of Epsteins Red Sox by saying: They have big shoes to fill after Jim left.

Samardzija still has the guts and the personality that made him a football star at the University of Notre Dame. At the age of 27, hes showing that the 10 million investment was worth it, pitching like a potential All-Star.

Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) laughed when a reporter mentioned that it seems like his perception has gone from being a total bust to the only untouchable player on the Cubs roster.

Its probably somewhere in the middle, Samardzija said. Thats the way it goes, especially with the media and things like that. Everything seems to have to be on the poles. Nothings ever really in the middle. Everything seems like its got to be a definitive: Hes terrible. Or a definitive: Hes gonna be great.

If you look at most cases, its somewhere in between that. A lot of it just has to do with development. Certain guys develop differently. Some guys want to develop. Some guys want to just stay the same.

I just knew that four or five years ago, I had a lot that I needed to improve on and I didnt really care what people were writing or what was being said. I just knew what I needed to (do).

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod believe that keeping pitchers healthy is the next frontier, and that power arms show up more in the postseason. So they will pore over medical records and analyze video, to see which mechanics are cleaner and more likely to avoid a breakdown.

But Cubs scouts have also been challenged to get more information than the other area guy, to talk to more people around the school and establish a better relationship with the family, to find out what makes the player tick.

Carpenter graduated from Trinity High School in New Hampshire and made his big-league debut less than a month after his 22nd birthday.

But Carpenter didnt really start to put it all together until he was almost 30, while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2005, he won the Cy Young Award and the first of his two World Series rings.

I dont know what separates you, Carpenter said. My goal was to try to make it to the major leagues. I did everything I could to make sure that when I was done, if I didnt make it, I knew I tried as hard as I could.

Halladay made his big-league debut at the age of 21, near the end of the 1998 season. But by 2001, he was busted back to Class-A Dunedin, restarting the climb that would help him win the Cy Young in both leagues.

Halladay didnt have his real breakthrough until the age of 25, winning 19 games and accounting for 239 13 innings, foreshadowing the Philadelphia Phillies ace that would become known as the best pitcher on the planet.

The Cubs will say the right things and feel great about their choices across the next three days. The challenge will be staying the course.

Thats just part of the game, Carpenter said. You always have to have patience, of course. Unfortunately, at some point in time, if theyre not doing what you think or what you projected, you have to move on.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."