White Sox

Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

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Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

Just a week ago there was a doubt that Jalil Anibaba would even be in the Fires starting 11 for Sundays home match against the Houston Dynamo. And, if he did play, there was a question of where hed fit in.

Cory Gibbs knee surgery on Tuesday answered both questions. Gibbs will be out four-six months as his torn meniscus heals, and second-year man Anibaba will be slotted into a central defenders role. Unfortunately, it happened because of Gibbs misfortune.

"Its devastating anytime you hear a teammate has to undergo surgery," said Anibaba. "Cory was definitely my mentor last season, and that continued into this one as well. We were under the impression that he wouldnt be out too long. Hes an irreplaceable to me and to the club."

Gibbs and Anibaba played together in the middle during the Fires first three matches of the Major League Soccer season. Newly-acquired German defender Arne Friedrich, however, improved his fitness as the Fire trained through a two-week break in league games. A veteran of 82 games for the powerful German national team, Friedrich figured to move into the lineup against Houston with Anibaba the likely man out in the middle.

Coach Frank Klopas, however, used Anibaba on the right side in last Saturdays friendly against the University of Louisville while Dan Gargan was nursing a sprained toe. If Gargan wasnt ready for Sunday, Anibaba could have be inserted in his spot.

Klopas used Anibaba on the right side at the start of his rookie season, but he prefers to play him in the middle of the four-man back line. Anibaba likes it better there, too.

"Ive just had more games there, more experience there," said Anibaba. "Thats where I played in college, but it comes down to where I can help the team the most."

Though Klopas prefers not to discuss lineup possibilities, there seems little doubt that Anibaba will play with Friedrich in the middle against the Dynamo -- Gargan seems likely to return on the right. Anibaba isnt worried about adjusting to Friedrich, a vocal leader, after spending so much time with Gibbs, who played 19 times for the U.S. national team and also had playing time with European clubs.

"Both are easy to play with," said Anibaba. "Theyve been with elite clubs and their experiences are very comparable, though their styles are a little different."

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play well in its last game with Gibbs and Anibaba together (a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1). Anibaba says a bounce-back is vital, no matter whos in the lineup.

"We dont have an option but to bounce back," he said. "The seasons not going to stop."

Elsewhere in the lineup, theres some doubt about the starting goalkeeper. Sean Johnson figures to make his first MLS appearance of the season after Paolo Tornaghi started the first three. Klopas wanted Johnson to get some game time after he basically just trained with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 squad since last season ended.

Johnson played in two reserve matches and was in for the first 45 minutes of the Louisville friendly since the Fires loss at Colorado, so he got some game action. The Fire, however, lost both of those reserve matches -- not a good omen going into the second home game of the season.

"Well be excited playing at home," said Anibaba. "Houstons a good side, plays well together and is very dangerous on set pieces. Itll be a battle for 90 minutes."

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

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USA TODAY

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You don’t need to be a headliner of one of the White Sox major trades to make an impact on the ongoing rebuilding effort.

The White Sox two representatives at Sunday’s Futures Game had one very big thing in common: Neither was the most talked-about player in the trades that brought them into the organization.

Luis Alexander Basabe was the No. 3 piece in the Chris Sale deal, overshadowed by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Dylan Cease was the No. 2 player in the Jose Quintana trade, overshadowed by Eloy Jimenez.

But as their selections to the Futures Game show, these guys weren’t just throw-ins. Cease is having a sensational season, the best campaign of any of the White Sox highest-rated pitching prospects. Basabe had a hot start to the season and showed his potential with a two-run homer on a 102 mph pitch in the third inning Sunday.

Rick Hahn’s talked all during this rebuild about his desire to make the White Sox farm system as deep as possible. Moncada, Kopech and Jimenez brought star power to the rebuild. Cease and Basabe have helped bring the depth.

“I love the fact that Dylan and Basabe are the two down there at the Futures Game, in part because — through no fault of their own — in their own transactions, publicly, they got a little bit overshadowed by the headliners, so to speak, in those deals,” Hahn said last week. “But the Quintana trade doesn’t happen without Dylan Cease being part of it. He was a very important part of that for us, and we’re thrilled to see him getting some recognition for his ability and his accomplishments, and the Futures Game honor is very fitting.

“Basabe, obviously, was overshadowed in the Sale trade by Moncada and Kopech, and they’re bigger names, but our scouts felt very strongly about his upside and what his tool set presented. And you saw it at Winston-Salem, the way he was able to perform at an All-Star level there.

“It’s nice to see guys who might not be at the top of mind for people when they think of our system being recognized in that way and certainly for those two guys, who were important parts of big trades for us but perhaps not perceived previously to the recognition they deserve.”

Until recently, Cease has been the fourth name mentioned when discussing the White Sox fleet of starting-pitching prospects, behind Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. And that’s typically after mentioning guys already in the majors like Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But Cease has certainly moved to the front of that conversation with his big 2018.

Basabe is still buried, in conversation, behind Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo. Blake Rutherford is ranked ahead of him, too. But he’s shown himself worthy of consideration for a spot in the White Sox future plans. His performance at the Futures Game will keep him in that discussion.

Down in the minors, these guys are going about their business. And as headlining names like Jimenez and Kopech have either dealt with injuries or gone through struggles, “under the radar” guys like Cease and Basabe have produced.

Of course, the descriptors of “headliner” and “under the radar” don’t mean much to them.

“Eloy Jimenez is such a good player. That’s nothing, necessarily, against me, it just happens to be the way it is,” Cease said Sunday. “With Basabe, Kopech and Moncada are really studs, too. You’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity you have. That doesn’t upset me by any means.”

Projecting lineups and depth charts of the future has become one of the favorite pastimes on the South Side during this rebuilding period. And while it’s easy to pick the highest-rated guys for the starting spots, rebuilds have a way of surprising. And maybe the emergence of guys like Cease and Basabe count as the surprises that awaited the White Sox effort.

Getting to the big leagues is obviously the end goal, and starring in the big leagues would mean usurping the projected place of one of the more-heralded prospects ahead of them. That’s not how Cease is looking at it, though, just sticking to that old baseball axiom of controlling what he can control.

Which is really the only way to get to where he and all these prospects want to be.

“It’s easy to dream on it,” Cease said of getting to the major league level. “It’s just that baseball’s such a difficult game that if you take your focus away from what you’re doing right now, it’s very easy to snowball away. So you can sit and dream about it, but you’ve got to do it and let it happen.”

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.