White Sox

Whitney Young deserves more respect

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Whitney Young deserves more respect

Whitney Young's schedule is tougher than the Chicago Bulls. They'll go anywhere, anytime to play anyone in sneakers, from Myrtle Beach to Waikiki Beach. They have accumulated more frequent-flyer miles than President Obama. So why are they getting less respect than a hot dog with ketchup?

"We won the state championship in 2009, were second in the state in 2010 and lost in the sectional final last year," coach Tyrone Slaughter said. "This team is as good as any of those teams.

"This team plays a more national schedule. We have lost five games to nationally ranked teams. Wins and losses don't indicate the level of what we have done. I'm not pleased with our record. But I'm pleased about where we are. Look at the history of our teams. We have gotten better as we went along."

Whitney Young is 8-7 after losing to third-ranked Curie 59-47 on Sunday in the finale of the two-day Whitney Young Shootout.

It doesn't get any easier for the Dolphins, who start three sophomores and have lost to the Nos. 1, 5, 11 and 19 teams in the nation. They play at Louisville (Ky.) Ballard on Saturday and have a Feb. 4 date with highly rated Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in a Nike event in California.

"Our spirits aren't shaken," Slaughter said. "We're looking to cut back on turnovers and seeing our young people continue to develop. Then we will be more successful over the next month and a half. We will continue to get better."

Slaughter's 2009 and 2010 powerhouses featured outstanding guard play with Anthony Johnson, Chris Colvin, Marcus Jordan and Ahmad Starks. He insists his current squad will have as dominant a front court as any team in the state or nation "when all the parts are together."

There is one problem. All of the parts may never be together this season. Tommy Hamilton, a 6-9 junior who is rated one of the leading prospects in his class, underwent surgery for an injured patella last month and it still hasn't been determined if he will return or not. He was scheduled to be sidelined for at least four weeks.

"That's a great setback for us," Slaughter said. "We hope to get him back. If we had Tommy, we would be dramatically better right now. But others have stepped up. That's why this team will be good."

So there is more pressure on Whitney Young's other two front-line standouts to carry the load. Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore who is rated as the No. 2 player in his class nationally, and Paul White, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is just beginning to spread his wings.

Okafor averages 21.7 points per game but White averages only 11. He still is recovering from an injury that forced him to sit out for three months in the summer.

"He is just getting back," Slaughter said. "When he is healthy, he will be as good as anyone in the country. I compare him to (former King and Illinois star) Marcus Liberty. He is 70 to 75 percent back now. He will continue to improve."

Hamilton's starting spot has been taken by 6-foot-5 senior Nate Brooks, who scored 33 on his ACT and is going to attend the University of Chicago. An outstanding rebounder, he grabs eight per game.

In the backcourt, Slaughter is counting on the continued development of 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard Miles Reynolds, who is in his first season of varsity competition, and 6-foot-4 Gabriel Snider, who is committed to Illinois-Chicago.

"This is a new role for Reynolds. We have given him the keys to the vehicle and told him to drive it. He is learning to fly. There is a lot of pressure on him," Slaughter said, noting that Reynolds was the starting point guard on last year's sophomore team that won the city title. He was pushed into the starting point guard position when Derrick Randolph left.

The first two players off the bench are 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Smith and 6-foot-4 junior Keith Langston. Smith, who scored 34 on his ACT, also will be attending the University of Chicago.

Slaughter is in his seventh year at Whitney Young. A 1982 graduate of Fenger, he never played basketball in his life. He majored in broadcast journalism at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

"I wanted to talk about sports. I didn't know about basketball until college," he said.

He became the student manager of the women's basketball team. "The coach took me under his wing. I enjoyed it. I wanted to be more valuable than just handing out towels and water. When the team won the women's national title, I felt basketball would be something I would enjoy," he said.

Slaughter came back to Chicago and continued to coach neighborhood youth teams during the summer. He managed a Dominick's grocery store, coached an AAU team and was hired at Whitney Young 10 years ago.

"Who woulda thunk it? A manager for Dominick's coaching this basketball team?" said Slaughter, now 47. "It is a natural fit for me. Anyone who coaches the game is in it to help mold and direct young people. I enjoy the competition of sport. I enjoy the fact that we can impact their lives in ways that others wouldn't."

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.”