White Sox

Remember the great players that didn't make it?

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Remember the great players that didn't make it?

The All-State rosters are riddled with football and basketball players who were projected for stardom in college and beyond but, for one reason or another, never fulfilled their potential or expectations.

In football, the list includes Fenwick's Jim DiLullo, Maine South's Tom Spotts, Evanston's Carlos Matthews, Lane Tech's Ken Ferguson, Tilden's Dempsey Norman, St. Rita's John Foley, Lane Tech's Alex Rodriguez, Naperville Central's Tim Lavery, New Trier's Mark Floersch, Proviso East's Philip Macklin, Naperville Central's Ryan Clifford, Maine South's Sean Price and Charlie Goro.

In basketball, remember Bloom's Raymond McCoy, Farragut's Ronnie Fields and LaKeith Henderson, King's Jamie Brandon, Imari Sawyer, Thomas Hamilton and Leon Smith, Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan, Collins' Antoine Davison, Westinghouse's DeAndre Thomas, Providence's Michael Thompson, Farragut's Curtis Ganes, Downers Grove South's Adam Schafer, Crystal Lake South's Bill Heppner, St. Martin de Porres' Tyrone Triplett, Crane's Lorenzo Thompson, Proviso West's Michael Ingram, Phillips' Bernard Jackson, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald? And how about Waukegan's Jereme Richmond?

Nearly all of them received Player of the Year recognition. Some were touted as the No. 1 player in the nation. All were accorded can't-miss accolades by college coaches, recruiting analysts and media observers.

But none of them made it.

Some, like Grunwald, DiLullo and Foley, were injured. Some, like Macklin, Nathan, Fields and Richmond, were strapped with personal or academic issues. Some, like McCoy, peaked in high school. Others weren't big enough or fast enough or simply not good enough to succeed at the next level.

But what they achieved in high school can never be taken away from them. They were dominant players, blue chippers, recruited by the nation's leading college programs, record-setters, leaders of state championship teams, first-round selections in the NBA draft.

Raymond McCoy was a two-time All-Stater at Bloom during a time when coach Wes Mason had built one of the most successful high school programs in Illinois. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 1978 and 1979 and esteemed Chicago sportswriter Bill Gleason said he was better than Isiah Thomas, then a standout at St. Joseph.

McCoy was a McDonald's All-American. Mason invited North Carolina coach Dean Smith to evaluate his star player. Smith wasn't impressed, saying that he could stay home in North Carolina and recruit players who were just as good or better.

To Mason, it was a crushing blow. In his view, McCoy was the best player he ever produced. Whether he ever told McCoy isn't certain. What is certain is McCoy went to San Francisco, transferred to DePaul after his freshman year and never was more than a role player for the Blue Demons. He averages two points per game in 1981-82.

Everybody makes mistakes. Farragut assistant coach Ron Eskridge, who also was involved in Fields' decline, insisted to one and all that Ganes was the No. 1 player in the state and one of the top 10 in the nation. Some people believed him.

Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, generally recognized as the leading talent evaluator in the nation since the late 1970s, once rated Heppner as a top 30 player nationally and a McDonald's All-America candidate. At DePaul, he sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury, then was ordered to end his career as a junior when doctors discovered a congenital neck injury.

Schafer, a 6-foot-5 forward who was recruited by Wisconsin, was ranked No. 20 nationally as a freshman by longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman and Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. Bob Gibbons jumped on board later. Chicago-based Roy and Harv Schmidt rated him in the top 10 as a sophomore. But Schafer never wanted to embrace the stardom.

"His parents pressured him beyond belief," the Schmidt brothers said. "The kid did not like the hoopla, all the attention. He did not want to make basketball his whole life. It got to him. He did not work hard and he didn't play hard."

Fields probably is the most unsettling and disappointing and tragic case of all. Arguably the most exciting and most athletic basketball player ever produced in Illinois, he was a teammate of Kevin Garnett in 1994-95 and Player of the Year in 1995-96. He was a three-time Parade All-America and a McDonald's All-America as a senior.

But he suffered a broken neck in a car accident on Feb. 26, 1996. He left high school as the third all-time leading scorer in Chicago Public League history with 2,619 points. He signed a letter-of-intent at DePaul but later was ruled academically ineligible. He declared for the 1998 NBA draft but wasn't chosen.

He played in the Philippines, Venezuela, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. In 2008, he returned to the United States to play in the CBA for the Minot (North Dakota) SkyRockets. For the last four years, he played with the Rockford (Illinois) Lightning. He is the only player in the history of the CBA to lead the league in scoring and steals in two consecutive seasons.

Hardly the recognition that was projected for him in high school.

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”