White Sox

Romeoville's Bailey opens some eyes

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Romeoville's Bailey opens some eyes

He was referred to as "the other Bailey" until he staged a spectacular coming-out party at the Proving Ground combine for underclassmen prior to the first Semper Fidelis All-American Football Classic last week in Phoenix, Arizona. Now everybody who is anybody in the recruiting business knows about Caleb Bailey.

Before the 6-foot-2, 207-pound linebacker from Romeoville showed up in Phoenix, he was confused with the more celebrated Bailey in town, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, who quarterbacked his team to the Class 8A championship in November. Caleb was looking for exposure and an opportunity to build his reputation.

It didn't take long before Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and every other recruiting analyst and every college recruiter was asking: "Who is that guy?"

"He looked very good at the combine. He showed good speed and instincts, definitely Big 10 ability. He will be a rising star," Lemming said. "There were 300 kids at the combine and Bailey was one of the most impressive of all. Toledo already has offered a scholarship. But that's only the beginning. He'll get Big 10 offers, too."

How impressive was Bailey? Even though he tweaked a hamstring while working out in preparation for the combine and wasn't able to show off his 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash trials, he demonstrated enough talent and potential to earn one of only 15 invitations to next year's Semper Fidelis all-star game.

"I feel good about myself now," Bailey said. "I definitely felt going in (to the combine) that I had to do a good job, hurt or not. If you do well, I said to myself, you'll get invited back to play in the bowl game as a senior. That was one of my goals and I achieved that.

"My next goal? Just to get better in any way possible, improving my grades, getting recruited by major Division I schools. I see other players around the area, guys who have bigger reputations than me at this point, guys like (Joliet Catholic's) Ty Isaac and (Bolingbrook's) Aaron Bailey, and I want to be recognized like they are."

Bailey started behind the proverbial eight ball. "He never played football until his freshman hear. And he was nobody going into his junior year because of an injury as a sophomore. He had surgery for a ruptured testicle and played only one game on the varsity. So he was off the charts coming into last season," said Romeoville coach Jeff Kuna.

Born and raised in southern California, Bailey and his family moved to Harrisburg, Illinois, when he was seven-years-old, then moved to Romeoville before his freshman year. He was a three-sport athlete until he realized that football was his calling. He didn't get serious about the game until last season.

"He is probably the best pure linebacker I have coached in 17 years," Kuna said. "His change of direction is so good. He plays in a ready position at all times. He is one guy that nobody can juke out in the open field. He has great quickness and balance. He comes off the edge so well. No offensive tackle or running back can handle him."

Bailey had a good-but-not-great junior season. Playing for a 3-6 team that finished seventh among eight schools in the Southwest Prairie Conference, he was credited with 66 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He was his team's defensive MVP and was an all-conference selection.

In his view, however, that wasn't good enough.

"I wanted people to know me. I worked hard for my junior year. I was all-conference. But I wanted more than that," he said. "I wanted to be All-Area and All-State. I kept up with other people's statistics to try to beat them. A lot of people didn't know about me."

Bailey was invited to attend Tom Lemming's banquet in December. After talking to Lemming, he was invited to the Proving Ground combine. Knowing it would be a showcase event that would give me enormous exposure to college recruiters, he began training as if it was an NFL combine.

"I was making sure I could do as well as I could. I wanted to do everything at the combine," he said. "One of the biggest parts of my game is speed. But I tweaked my hamstring working out in the 40 and didn't get timed at the combine because I didn't want to risk running slower than 4.5.

"So I concentrated on being more physical and doing as well as I could and trying to impress people in the linebacker and one-on-one drills. People said I did a good job. I felt I opened some eyes. Under the circumstances, I felt I became more of a top player. Obviously, if I hadn't done well, I wouldn't have been invited to play in the Semper Fidelis game."

The recruiting process has only begun for Bailey. Toledo offered after coach Tim Beckman left for Illinois. He has taken an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt. Northern Illinois is interested. But Lemming predicts Bailey's performance at the combine will trigger more interest from more big-time programs, including Big 10 schools.

"My dream school is USC," Bailey said. "Ever since I can remember, I always heard about USC when I was growing up, the way they built the program, how (coach) Pete Carroll was a legend. I like the aura of USC...Reggie Bush and the linebackers who played my position, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. I hope I get a chance to consider them."

Just like he had a game plan for the Proving Ground combine, Bailey has a game plan as he prepares for the 2012 season. He works out and lifts weights at more than one facility during the week and on weekends. His goal is to get bigger and stronger and more explosive while maintaining his 4.5 speed. He hopes to weight 215 to 220 pounds as a senior and wants to improve his bench-press from 245 to 300 pounds and his squat from 465 pounds to 515.

"This year is my coming-out year. Before, I wasn't out there like some of the other players like Ty Isaac and Aaron Bailey," he said. "When recruiting starts, I want to attract recruiters from the great schools, the recognized schools that have winning traditions."

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?

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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.”