Bulls

The method to Matt Garzas madness

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The method to Matt Garzas madness

The silence bothered Matt Garza as he looked out across the Cubs clubhouse. It was mostly empty, except for the reporters three or four deep waiting by Kerry Woods locker.

(Bleep) guys, its Game 1, Garza said, raising his voice. Its like a (bleeping) morgue."

So Garza climbed onto a chair late Thursday afternoon and turned on the stereo. Music is only supposed to be played after wins, but Bob Marleys voice filled the room. This drew smirks from at least two teammates.

It was a bizarre scene after an Opening Day loss to the Washington Nationals, with Carlos Marmol firing the seasons first Next question. But Garza loves the noise and enjoys being the center of attention. Ever notice whos up there standing on the top step of the dugout?

After another winter in which his name was all over the trade rumors, Garza will get the ball on Saturday at Wrigley Field. Near the end of spring training, he was asked if these past few months have changed what the Cubs think of him long-term, or if he had a sense of what the front office is thinking.

Ive never worried about that, Garza said. Im comfortable in my skin. Im going to adapt to what I have to (in order) to be successful and thats just who I am. Im not going to go out there and go out of my way. Its not an insult or anything. Its just that I pride myself on what I do.

This is who I am. This is what youre going to get, every day, day in and day out.

More than once in Arizona, general manager Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs planned to discuss a contract extension with Garzas agent, though its unclear how those talks progressed.

One data point figured to be the five-year, 65 million extension the White Sox gave left-hander John Danks last December. Then this week Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants agreed to a five-year extension worth a reported 112.5 million.

This is not an exact comparison. Cain is 27 and could have become a free agent after this season. Garza is 28 and remains under club control through 2013. And these statistics can be misleading. But check out the career numbers: 69-73, 3.35 ERA (Cain); and 52-54, 3.83 ERA (Garza).

Thats great for him, Garza said. He deserves it, every penny. Hes been one hell of a pitcher for the last five, six seasons. Thats awesome for young guys like myself. That means a lot, but different people sign for different things.

I dont see myself worrying about that. My job is to get ready for Saturday, and I love my job.

Clubhouse chemistry is an inexact science. Theo Epstein watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and win the 2008 ALCS MVP award with the Tampa Bay Rays. The new Cubs president sort of laughed when he described the view up close.

Hes a smarter guy than youd think from across the field and I dont mean that the wrong way, Epstein said. You watch him and how energetic and extroverted and fidgety he can be looking at him from across the field. You get a certain impression about him that maybe hes not sort of always thinking things through. But the reality is hes actually got a method to his madness.

He knows himself really well. He understands the game really well. He knows how to prepare and I think theres a lot more going on upstairs than people give him credit for.

Hes a really good teammate and a really loyal member of the organization, someone who respects the game and people in the game. He cares a lot about winning.

Garza corrected a reporter who figured the pitcher wouldnt care what his agent does the next several months (meaning he wouldnt impose a deadline or let negotiations the Cubs havent acknowledged any talks become a distraction).

I care what he does, Garza said. Dont mistake me, but its more my focus isnt on that. Its on helping this team be successful. (So thats) focusing on what I need to focus on, putting my priorities on family, my job and then the rest of my (extended) family and then business. Thats the last (one). Thats the least of my worries. If I do my job, everything will take care of itself.

So Garza will put on his game face. He likes to pull a hooded sweatshirt over his head and block everything out with headphones. His body language screams: Stay away.

Thats part of the equation, Epstein said. He embraces the competitive aspects of the game and he doesnt try to pretend its just another day. He needs his music and his time to himself. He brings a lot to the table. He walks sort of a fine line. It can be in control and out of control, but that really works for him emotionally.

Garza says hes been like this since Little League, bouncing from baseball to football to soccer to basketball: There were no stops. It was always competing, competing, competing.

If the Cubs are going to contend, theyll need Garza to take another leap forward, but manager Dale Sveum is just focusing on the fundamentals.

Garza would launch rockets on routine throws to first base, finishing last season with seven errors or one more than the rest of his big-league career combined. And his attitude toward hitting in his first season in the National League was pretty much: I get paid to get outs.

Hes taken some big steps the guys pitched in the World Series, Sveum said. His numbers last year were pretty good on a not-so-good team (10-10, 3.32 ERA). We gauge a lot on wins and losses. Well, a lot of times thats the team youre on. Unfortunately, last year the defense wasnt good. (His) own defense wasnt very good (it) maybe cost him two to four wins.

These are things that got to improve. (Just) being able to bunt might keep him in the game to get him one more or two more wins, too. So its important for him to completely get his whole game together, and he knows that. Hes worked his butt off to try and be better in everything.

Garza certainly hasnt lost his edge, but he appears to be more relaxed in his second season on the North Side. He considers himself more of a lead-by-example type, not the guy who will tell teammates what to do. Hes integrated with the clubhouse, and not just because he brings in Popeyes fried chicken.

If there are any misperceptions out there, well, Garzas going to let his pitching do the talking.

Thats fine with me, Garza said. Shoot, whatever works for people to cope with how I am. It doesnt bother me. Im fine with how I am and the way I see myself. Thats the only thing I can deal with and actually worry about. Saturdays my day, and I cant wait to get there.

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

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.