Preps Talk

Valbuena feels like a rookie all over again with Cubs

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Valbuena feels like a rookie all over again with Cubs

By Jose M. Romero
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX Luis Valbuena knows he has been given another opportunity to be in the major leagues, and hes grateful for it.

Valbuena, the Cubs everyday third baseman for nine days now after he was in the starting lineup Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, is determined to make the most of his chance.

Its another chance that has come my way and I cant pass it up, Valbuena said in Spanish.

Valbuena, once a top Seattle Mariners prospect who was paired with Asdrubal Cabrera as the next generation of Cleveland Indians middle infielders only three seasons ago, fell out of favor and ended up in the minors for most of 2011. He was then purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays, but didnt make their 2012 Opening Day roster.

The Cubs acquired Valbuena by claiming him off waivers April 4, but Valbuena was sent down to Iowa a few days into the season. He hit .303 with 26 extra-base hits, 38 runs scored and had 31 RBI over 58 games, and got the call-up when Ian Stewart was placed on the disabled list with left wrist soreness.

While his .231 batting average with the Cubs going into Saturdays game might not show it, Valbuena has made an impression on his manager, Dale Sveum.

Hes been pretty impressive. Gives a great at-bat every time. Played a great third base, Sveum said. Hes a major-league player, theres no question about it. The bat speed he has. The at-bats he gives you. The at-bats hes had against left-handed pitching.

Consistency is the key to success in the majors, Valbuena said.

If you can stay consistent, you can have a long career, he said. When bad things happen, you have to be strong enough in your mind to overcome them.

For Valbuena, the business of baseball means hes happy to have a job. Hes only 26 and has already played in all or parts of five major-league seasons.

Im glad a team wants me and likes my game, and Im just up here with another team trying to do well and show them (the Cubs) that they can count on me, Valbuena said.

Valbuena hopes he can be a Cub for a while, and although hes a veteran, being around players with more experience like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol makes him feel brand new.

I feel like a rookie, Valbuena said. I learn from those guys because theyve been here a while.

Valbuena is versatile enough to play second base and shortstop, and his left-handed bat with a little pop gives Sveums lineup a different look.

I think we stole something there, Sveum said. Thats a pretty huge pickup for us, to get a left-handed guy that can drive the ball out of the ballpark and catch the ball at multiple positions. That was a heck of a pickup.

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

High School Lites had a busy show as it was the final week of the regular season for IHSA boys basketball Class 3A and 4A. The Class 1A and 2A playoffs also tipped in boys basketball as the show has some thrilling regional titles that were decided in the final minute. And finally, the girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals were played on Friday as the state's top teams played in Bloomington.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Richards wrestler Mia Palumbo

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Simeon boys basketball

Highlights

Marshall shocks Leo in Class 2A regional final

Aurora Christian runs past Harvert Christian for 1A regional title

Buzzer-beater lifts Monticello over Gibson City for regional title

Jacobs goes unbeaten in Fox Valley with win over Dundee-Crown

West Aurora gets by rival East Aurora

Yorkville completes season sweep of DeKalb

Lemont escapes past T.F. North

Marshall needs OT to get past Teutopolis in girls 2A semifinals

Harlan takes down Eureka in 2A semifinals

Stockton runs by Okaw Valley in 1A

Schlarman races by Lebanon

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.