Albert Almora will drive a hard bargain with Cubs


Albert Almora will drive a hard bargain with Cubs

MILWAUKEE For Albert Almora, it was either a pool or a batting cage, and that wasnt really a choice at all.

Almora credited his fathers imagination for turning the backyard of their South Florida home into a training ground for one of the best amateur players in the country, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.

Cubs executives visited the house, and the MLB Network gave a glimpse into Almoras world the cage, the pull-up bar and the rope tied to a tree for climbing.

This sport runs in my veins, Almora said.

Jason McLeod, who oversees scouting and player development for the Cubs, raved about Almoras work ethic and internal drive. So its hard to imagine someone wired this way turning down an opportunity like this.

But it was interesting to listen to the 18-year-old outfielder from Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, whos being advised by agent Scott Boras and trying to create some leverage.

My main priority right now is college, Almora said Tuesday on a conference call. I just graduated high school right now and I have a full scholarship to the University of Miami and thats what Im looking forward to.

When the times right and everything works out, then itll happen. But for right now my main priority is the University of Miami.

Ill guarantee that Im ready for major-league baseball, but well have to see what happens.

Almora didnt attach too much significance to being the first draft choice of the Theo Epstein administration: Im just happy to be picked by a major-league club. Its something that Ive worked for all my life.

But McLeods first pick (No. 65) running the draft for the Boston Red Sox in 2004 was an undersized player from Arizona State University named Dustin Pedroia, who would go on to win a World Series ring and become the American League MVP in 2008.

If there are great expectations, the Cubs liked how Almora was drawn to the higher levels of competition, playing year-round for elite travel teams in Florida and winning five gold medals for Team USA.

The front office surely has an idea of what it will take to sign Almora under the new, restrictive collective bargaining agreement. The bonus recommended by the commissioners office is 3.25 million, according to Baseball America.

In my mind, I trust my abilities and I know what I can do on the field, but thats not the priority right now, Almora said. We have to let everything the process play out and let the cards fall where they have to fall. I cant control that. Thats something that Chicago has to talk about with their organization and come to an agreement.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum watched video of Almora before the draft and came away impressed with his effortless swing.

That guys pretty far ahead of the game with his mechanics, Sveum said. He does a lot of (the) things that a lot of good hitters do, (the kind) of things that pan out in the long run.

Looking to the future and trying to address the organizations biggest need the Cubs selected seven straight pitchers after Almora.

Through the first two days, the Cubs have picked 11 pitchers, one infielder, three outfielders and two catchers. Eleven players are from college and six are out of high school. The draft ends Wednesday with rounds 16-40.

The new labor deal pushed up the deadline to sign draft picks to July 13. The Cubs will be looking to close on a player they feel can push teammates and lead by example.

All I can guarantee from me is that Im going to play the game 120 percent, Almora said. I cant guarantee that Ill hit four or five home runs, but Ill be giving it my all every day.

Five Burning Questions for the Bulls: Who takes the last shot?


Five Burning Questions for the Bulls: Who takes the last shot?

Each Tuesday leading up to the start of the 2018 regular season, Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman are analyzing a burning question the Bulls must answer this season. Today the pair looks at which player the Bulls will lean on most in the clutch.

Vincent Goodwill: Who takes the last shot? The answer is easy: The hot man. But that isn’t the fun answer to give as the preseason approaches and roles are yet to be defined. Despite last season’s record and the Tank-a-thon that plagued the Bulls along with several other franchises, the Bulls had their share of clutch moments—so in theory, they’ll have plenty of options when close games wind down.

Zach LaVine came up big in his showdown against Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves, carrying the Bulls to an emotionally-charged win. He also stole an inbounds pass against the Orlando Magic, racing downcourt for a clinching dunk with his team trailing.

Kris Dunn was a catalyst when the Bulls had their best stretch of the season, a 14-7 mark buoyed by the return of Nikola Mirotic. He showed signs of maturity and growth with his decision-making, helping inspire the Bulls with his energy and moxie.

And if you want a bucket, a healthy Jabari Parker can get one as quick and easy as anyone with his combination of shooting and ballhandling at his size—if he’s right and if he’s a fit with this roster.

But we all know the Bulls believe in Lauri Markkanen being the future of the franchise and will put him in premium positions to succeed. However, to trust one with the singular responsibility would be unfair.

No one has proven anything consistently enough to get the call yet, and there’s only a handful of players you give the ball to, clear out the offense and let him work. With that said, the Bulls can employ a variety of options and Fred Hoiberg has shown an ability to draw up late-game actions to free up shooters with off-ball movement and cutters.

From this seat, Markkanen has to be involved, as the best shooter on the team and the matchup problems he’ll present even later in games when teams traditionally go small.

And if he comes with an improved game this season, armed with a better handle to break down a defense, the answer could be easy.

But as it stands, having Markkanen as a screener with LaVine or Dunn as a ballhandler could be a pick-your-poison proposition for defenses, with LaVine and Dunn being quick enough to get to the lane and Markkanen’s defender unable to leave him beyond 20 feet.

If LaVine is the ball handler, it could negate Dunn because he’s not yet respected as a jump shooter to keep help defenders away. If Dunn is handling, LaVine can’t be left alone by defenses, and neither can Parker if he’s on the floor.

No matter the option, late-game situations are about creating matchup problems and Markkanen’s size and shooting will be feared by opposing teams.

So…clear the floor from 25 feet. If LaVine is handling, watch for an in-and-out dribble to the elbow for a jumper. If Dunn is there, he’s going straight to the bucket until something collapses.

And if Markkanen catches with confidence…good night, Chicago.

Mark Strotman: Last year’s 27-win Bulls didn’t find themselves in many scenarios defined by the NBA at “clutch,” a five-point game with 5 or fewer minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime. And seeing as the stakes weren’t all that high, there isn’t much we can take from those clutch numbers.

But it’s not a surprise that, if narrowed down to clutch situations in the final 2 minutes of contests, Lauri Markkanen (35) and Kris Dunn (32) led the team in field goal attempts. Zach LaVine had 15 attempts in just nine qualifying games, while Markkanen (30) and Dunn (26) appeared in more closely contested games.

With LaVine’s injury-riddled season and Markkanen being a rookie, Dunn actually found the most success in clutch situations. He averaged 2.8 points on a blistering 48.3 percent clip and made 85 percent of his free throws. Markkanen averaged 2.3 points on just 37.7 percent shooting, while LaVine averaged 3.0 points but on just 27.3 percent shooting in those nine games.

So, does that make Dunn the go-to guy in the clutch? We understand the open-endedness of this question. Time, situation, hot hand and opponent will dictate which player takes the final shot more often than not. Regardless of how much you like one of the Bulls as potential closing scorers, there isn’t a Harden, LeBron, Lillard or Curry on this team. At least in the early going the role will be dictated by outside factors.

But one would think the goal is for Markkanen to find comfort being that player. There isn’t a player on the Bulls with a more unique and versatile skill set, something that comes in handy in clutch moments when a secondary or tertiary move is at times necessary when the defense reacts. Markkanen should lead the team in 3-point shooting next season, has shown some ability to put the ball on the floor and, if needed, is a superb free throw shooter.

What’s more, even though Markkanen is just 21 years old this feels like one of the stages of his progression. LaVine is the $78 million man, but Markkanen has the look and feel of a future franchise player. No one should expect Kevin Durant NBA Finals daggers from the get-go, but Markkanen should want the ball in clutch settings. It remains to be seen how LaVine will handle not being a primary guy down the stretch, and Dunn’s numbers have earned him looks. Jabari Parker is a pure scorer, lest we forget about the free agent. But your best player should have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. That’s Markkanen.


Seahawks defensive end calls Mitchell Trubisky "average quarterback" after loss

Seahawks defensive end calls Mitchell Trubisky "average quarterback" after loss

Shortly Seattles' 24-17 loss last night, Seahawks defensive end offered a less-than-shining reivew of Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky: 

He also added: 

“I felt that we should make more plays against him,” Clark said. “Pressure is his downfall; the more you can get pressure up the middle and in his face, and he throws those errant passes like that, that’s how you can beat him. We failed to do that enough against him.

Clark did get to Trubisky once in:

It was by no means Trubisky's strongest performance, but it can get a lot worse than finishing 25-of-34 for 200 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions in a winning effort.