Bears

McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

789690.jpg

McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

Lane Tech's Jack McLaughlin is a mix of contradictions. He is a North Sider who is a White Sox fan. He wears No. 24 because of Joe Crede, not Willie Mays. He is a pitcher with pinpoint control, not an overpowering fastball. And though he understands that baseball is his future, he won't disavow a commitment to his friends and teammates to play football."I always loved playing football and I made a commitment to both sports," he said. "I started at quarterback last year and the team looks to me to lead them. I plan on sticking with my commitment. It's a matter of honor. But I know my future is baseball."Lane Tech coach Dean Stavrakas appreciates McLaughlin's loyalty."He is one of the finest young men I've had the privilege of coaching. But if he really works hard this winter, he will be the best known name in Chicago as a senior," he said.Stavrakas wants him to beef up and skip football this fall. The thought of one of the best baseball players in the state running with a football against 300-pound linemen and 225-pound linebackers is a scary proposition."He wants to do it," the coach said. "I've been talking to him about not doing it. He should spend the off-season conditioning and trying to get a shot at a Division I college and the major leagues. Colleges are looking at him. If he threw 90 miles per hour, that would open eyes, too."McLaughlin doesn't register 90 mph on a radar gun yet. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander averages 82-84 mph. He plans to pitch every weekend this summer for Academy Elite. His goals are to add 6 to 7 mph to his fastball and add another pitch, maybe a slider or sinker, to his fastball, curveball and changeup."I want to add something that goes down and in to a right-handed hitter but looks like a fastball," he said. "I love the feeling of just making kids look terrible while I'm pitching. I like to dominate. I love when the ball is in my hand and everyone is looking at me to make a pitch. I like being the center of attention."McLaughlin can't wait for the 2013 season. Lane Tech closed its 2012 campaign with a 21-14 record, losing to Simeon 2-1 in for the Public League championship, and to Maine West 7-1 in the regional opener. Considering the Indians got off to a 3-9 start, they finished in a blaze of glory.Next year? McLaughlin returns with 20 other underclassmen, including designated hitter Mike Henry, center fielder Matt Delaney and first baseman Walter Nolan-Cohn.But 2012 could have been better. McLaughlin said the 2-1 loss to Simeon "summed up the whole year. There are no words to explain it. We worked hard all season for that game. But we just didn't pull it off," he said."I was happy with my performance. I gave my team a chance to win. But I tip my hat to (Simeon pitcher) Shane Brown, who pitched a great game, too. I have one regret, a 3-ball, 2-strike changeup in the first inning against Blake Hickman. I left it high and in and he hit it to left for a run-scoring double. It turned out to be the difference in the game."Next year's goal is to qualify for the state finals for the first time since 2001. With a new 4 million baseball stadium scheduled to be opened for the 2013 season, there is renewed excitement at Lane Tech. As a senior, McLaughlin hopes to re-establish the winning tradition and regain the respect that the program once commanded."I hope to attract interest (from college and major league scouts) over the summer," McLaughlin said. "I began to realize what my potential was last year, when I lost 2-1 to New Trier in the sectional semifinal. They were seeded No. 4 and we were seeded No. 14. They had Charlie Tillson, who was a major league draft choice. He was my only strikeout of the game."McLaughlin made an error on Tillson's bunt in the first inning. Tillson stole second and third and scored on a fly ball."They had no respect for us at all," McLaughlin said. "We stuck with them the whole game. Their pitcher is at Illinois. I was a sophomore and held my own. It said to me that I can do this at a high level. With our great tradition, teams should have more respect for us."McLaughlin finished with a 7-6 record and a 1.78 earned run average with
69 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 66 23 innings."He doesn't throw hard. The key is his control, down and in and down and away on everything, rarely high," Stavrakas said. "He has command of his fast ball, curveball and changeup. He can throw any of them at any time for a strike. If only he'd stop playing football and concentrate on baseball..."McLaughlin is listening.

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

roquan_smith_bears_ilbs_season_preview_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

0716-kyle-schwarber.jpg
USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”