White Sox

Eifert feels he made right call in returning to Notre Dame

942537.png

Eifert feels he made right call in returning to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tyler Eifert has heard it from all angles, the incessant questions about why he's only caught 34 passes a year after reeling in 63, tops among FBS tight ends in 2011. The soft-spoken senior from Fort Wayne, Ind., didn't seem too bothered by those questions, though, since he feels he's actually improved his draft stock in his senior year.

"I control what I can control, and thats making plays when I the opportunity, being a good teammate, blocking, playing my best when Im out there to help us win," Eifert said. "It hasnt been annoying, but what people dont really understand is theres a lot of people that are watching other things than how many catches you have."

Many see Eifert's outstanding stats from 2011 -- he also led FBS tight ends in yards -- and the subsequent dropoff in 2012 as a problem, one that could make him regret returning for his senior season. But Eifert has developed into more than just a pass-catcher in 2012, becoming a guy coach Brian Kelly frequently refers to as the real deal at tight end.

"This isn't about numbers this year," Kelly said. "This is about a guy that's developing himself as a complete tight end."

Eifert said he came close to declaring for the NFL Draft last winter, following Notre Dame's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. He weighed both options, and ultimately decided to return to South Bend, where he felt he could make himself into a first-round pick.

Most scouts loved Eifert's pass-catching ability, but had plenty of doubts about his ability to handle the other half of being a tight end.

"My knock has always been Im not a good blocker, so thats something I focused on and tried to get better at, and I think thats helped me," Eifert said.

But the decision to return wasn't just about improving for the NFL. While few could've predicted the success Notre Dame has seen in 2012, looking back, Eifert's glad he doesn't have to watch the team's title bid from afar.

"Id be kicking myself if I couldnt be a part of this team," Eifert said. "Im just really happy that I get to be a part of this team."

Eifert and quarterback Tommy Rees have a fantastic rapport, with Rees looking Eifert's way seemingly every time he enters a game for Everett Golson. Had Rees quarterbacked the Irish this year, perhaps Eifert's stats would be near where they were last year.

But as Golson worked through his development, Eifert has been left out of the box score. In Notre Dame's wins over Michigan State and Michigan, Eifert only caught one pass, and the tight end didn't record more than five catches until Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh.

"Id like to be catching more balls, as many balls as I did last year, but at the end of the day were winning football games and were winning football games the way that were playing this year, not the way were playing last year," Eifert explained. "Ive said it before, you cant really be frustrated with winning."

The Golson-Eifert connection has improved in the last two weeks, with Eifert catching 12 passes for 129 yards. After Notre Dame's win over Boston College, Golson spoke about how he's learned to let Eifert use his size to reel in passes, something Rees was adept at doing last year.

That's because Eifert is, with the right throws, a matchup nightmare. Few can keep the athletic 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end from catching a well-thrown pass.

But Eifert's pass-catching ability was a known factor. The rest of his game wasn't, although his coach feels that's changed in 2012.

"If you asked the guys at the next level about Tyler Eifert, they really don't care about how many balls he caught because they know he can catch the football," Kelly said. "They're looking at other things that he's developed. He's going to find himself in a pretty good position in April."

Jose Abreu still leading AL first basemen to start 2018 MLB All-Star Game

abreu_story.jpg
USA TODAY

Jose Abreu still leading AL first basemen to start 2018 MLB All-Star Game

Last week, Jose Abreu had a nearly 26,000 vote lead to start the 2018 MLB All-Star game over Red Sox first basemen Mitch Moreland. But now Abreu can take a brief sigh of relief on his quest to Washington.

MLB updated the American League fan ballot standings Tuesday for the Midsummer Classic. The Sox first baseman now has a lead on Moreland by over 138,000 votes.

This an encouraging sign for Abreu and White Sox faithful. Are fans taking notice of Abreu’s production this season?

His numbers this year include a slash line of .283/.338/.500. He also has 11 homers, 41 RBIs and 26 doubles. For his career, Abreu has a .299 average, 135 homers and 451 RBIs in 683 games.

He ranks first among AL first basemen in hits, doubles, RBIs, SLG and OPS. In other major offensive statistics, Abreu ranks near the top 10 for almost all of them.

Abreu is a cornerstone in the White Sox rebuild and if he does indeed start, it could be huge for his confidence and the team.

An All-Star nod this season would also mean a second career appearance in the game. He debuted in his rookie year (2014) as a reserve.

If fans indeed vote Abreu in as a starter, he would be the first position player to start for the White Sox since Frank Thomas did it back-to-back as a first baseman in 1994 and 1995.

There is still time to cast your votes to see Abreu start the Midsummer Classic. The AL will have another updated voting ballot June 26.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

artemi_panarin_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.