Bears

Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

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Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

Here is the start of our weekly look at the Cubs minor leagues. Every Tuesday we will recap how the top prospects fared over the previous seven days.

AAA Iowa Cubs

Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson may not have gotten off to the start he would have liked to in April, but he began to show signs of improvement in the first week of May. Jackson went 8-for-25 (.320) to kick off his May campaign. He also homered once and drove in four runs. His productive week caused his average to jump 12 points to .254. Jackson is not where he wants to be yet but with a few consistent weeks like this one he will start to give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reason to consider promoting him to the big leagues.

Unlike Jackson, Iowa Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo came out of the gates in a full sprint and he has yet to look back. Rizzo was named minor league player of the month by the organization. He hit .384 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in the month of April. The first week of May suggests that the law of averages may have come into play for Rizzo as his production has dropped slightly in the past few outings. This past week Rizzo went 6-for-24 (.250) with no home runs, 2RBIs, and eight strikeouts. The minor slide dropped Rizzos average from the astronomical .378 to a still outstanding .355. I really dont think there should be any concern surrounding Rizzo, his numbers are still great and his recall to the big leagues is a matter of time.

AA Tennessee Smokies

Right Hander Trey McNutt only had one appearance in the first week of May. He allowed five runs (two earned) on two hits in two and two-thirds innings. He was credited with the loss and his record fell to 0-2. Do not let McNutts single May appearance fool you, he still touts the second lowest ERA on the team (1.56), and he appeared unhittable last Thursday until an error and 1 bad pitch unraveled his outing in the third inning.

Highly acclaimed Dominican shortstop prospect Junior Lake made his Tennessee season debut on Sunday. In his first at bat Lake led off the game with a double and in his next plate appearance he tripled. Lake has only played in two games and is currently 3-for-8 (.375). Its much too early to jump to any conclusions but it is safe to say Junior Lake possesses a great deal of raw talent.

A Daytona Cubs

Top 5 Cubs prospect Matt Szczur was still trying to find a groove as of May 1, but things are beginning to click for the 22 year old center fielder. Szczur went 8 for 26 (.307) last week with an RBI moving his average to .256. One thing that has remained constant for the Cubs prospect is his base stealing ability. He has swiped 16 bags, three in the last week. Szczur could be a dangerous player if he couples some solid hitting with his already well-established speed.

Daytona right fielder Nelson Perez may have had the most impressive week in the Cubs organization. Perez started the month off 12 for 25 (.480) with 8 RBIs. His stellar average was given a boost by a 5-for 5 effort against the Jupiter Hammerheads on Saturday. Perezs hitting clinic included a two-run home run in the eighth. He leads the team in walks (19), home runs (5), batting average (.319), slugging percentage (.606), and OPS (1.037).

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via ChicagoBears.com. "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”