Bulls

Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

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Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

This wasnt exactly floating a trial balloon. Cubs manager Dale Sveum just happened to answer a question about Anthony Rizzo before Sundays matinee at Wrigley Field.

It immediately generated headlines, and getting swept by the White Sox almost became an afterthought. Sure, the Cubs could use a designated hitter when they go to American League stadiums for interleague play next month. Why not Rizzo?

Sveum said that will be discussed with the front office, and he knows his lineup could use a jolt right now. Rizzo went deep again on Wednesday for Triple-A Iowa, running his total to 16 homers. The 22-year-old is hitting .355 with 43 RBI through 44 games.

Cubs fans have long loved their prospects. Maybe its part of the conditioning for wait until next year. The explosion of information on the Internet has only increased their fascination with the next big thing.

With the hype building, Rizzo sat down with Comcast SportsNet this week in Des Moines, telling Luke Stuckmeyer that he tries not to pay attention to any of it.

I really just focus on today and now, Rizzo said in an interview airing on SportsNet Central at 10 p.m. on Thursday. I get texts from my friends, and my parents calling me, this and that. But theres no point in getting wrapped up around any of that, because its just going to drive you crazy. I learned that last year. Whenever that time comes, Ill be ready.

Whenever the first baseman of the future is promoted, it wont be by happenstance. It will have almost nothing to do with whats going on at the big-league level and everything to do with Rizzos growth as a player.

This is all part of being thorough, the buzzword in this new front office. Before the season began, each prospect in the organization received an individual player plan for improvement, which outlined goals to meet this year.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have already scouted the Triple-A club in person. The Cubs also installed cameras in each of their minor-league stadiums. SpyCam shows real-time video on the Web, which team executives can watch on their laptops.

There are financial benefits in waiting to restart the meter on Rizzos major-league service time until later this summer, though Epstein has said that will not really be a consideration.

Rizzos experience with the San Diego Padres last year hangs over the decision. Hoyer was running the Padres then, and has admitted that it was a mistake to rush Rizzo, who hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.

Rizzo called the video sickening to watch. What makes him think hell be ready this time?

Just preparation, Rizzo said. (Its) preparing every day, staying in that good routine. I have a good routine going right now that Im sticking with. Nothings going to get in my way. Its just tunnel vision right now (for) where I want to be. That vision is with the Cubs for a long time and many championships.

The Boston Red Sox model is being rebuilt at Clark and Addison. Cubs executive Jason McLeod selected Rizzo who played his high school ball in South Florida in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Epstein and Hoyer were on opposite ends of the Adrian Gonzalez deal and included Rizzo, before re-acquiring him in the Andrew Cashner trade last winter.

It means a lot, Rizzo said. They drafted me when I was a little baby at 17, when I was thick and chubby and theyve seen me grow. Theyve seen me take my lumps and hopefully they see me excel.

Rizzo is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and hes shown real agility around the bag.

Unprompted, one Cubs official looked back on some of the balls that trickled through the right side of the infield think of those two late losses to the Washington Nationals the first week of the season and guaranteed that Rizzo would have made the plays.

Those skills should be maximized with Sveums intricate defensive positioning, which pinches the shortstop and second baseman and tries to take away the middle.

I think he (could become) a Gold Glove first baseman, Iowa manager Dave Bialas said. Not only does he have power and is hitting for average, he has good instincts on the base paths. He really does a good job in going first to third, reading the ball off the bat, scoring from second base. Hes really a complete player.

Cubs executives have described Rizzo as mature beyond his years after overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system. They believe how hes responded to adversity is telling.

Rizzo and Iowa outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, are viewed as potential glue guys who will set the clubhouse tone for future Cubs teams.

Im really excited at the opportunity we have to be teammates, hopefully for a long time, Jackson said. We push each other. I think a good teammate always has to push his teammates.

Were constantly talking baseball and when the times going to come for each of us. (Were) helping each other make those adjustments, getting on each other for missing pitches we should have hit. Its a good relationship. Im excited to see him in a Cubs uniform soon, hopefully.

Its a good guess that whenever Rizzo makes his Cubs debut, it will come on the road, away from the media crush at Wrigley Field. Obviously, hed like to be in the show already, but thats not one of the talking points.

Rizzo is going to keep grinding away, until the Cubs have no choice.

Every day is a new challenge in baseball, Rizzo said. So every day youre going to be working on something, whether its the rookie league in Mesa, or here in Iowa.

Youre always trying to get better, whatever level youre at. Whether its here or the big leagues, there are going to be constant adjustments. Thats what this game is about.

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

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USA TODAY

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.