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MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter

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MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter

SAN FRANCISCO The Toronto Blue Jays had won the World Series a few months earlier, and were on their way to winning another when they drafted Chris Carpenter with the 15th overall pick in the 1993 draft.

Two years later, the Blue Jays held the No. 17 pick and went with a tireless and disciplined high school kid who had been one of Colorados best cross-country runners at Arvada West outside Denver: Roy Halladay.

Tim Wilken, the Cubs amateur scouting director, was involved in both of those selections, part of the 25 seasons he spent in the Toronto organization, which became a model for player development under Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick.

If Carpenter hadnt signed with the Blue Jays, he was already committed to Creighton University to play for Jim Hendry, Wilkens childhood friend growing up in Florida and the future Cubs general manager.

This was a recruiter so aggressive and charming that they had a saying in Omaha, Neb., around the baseball offices: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.

Theyre all good baseball people, Carpenter said. They know what theyre doing.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are the new executives in charge at Clark and Addison, but the draft that begins Monday night will also be shaped by the scouts loyal to Wilken and Hendry, and they absolutely have to get it right.

Whether they wind up being frontline starters or late-inning relievers, the Cubs know they need more power arms.

Cubs fans and sometimes the people who draft them fall in love with prospects. But remember how long it took Halladay and Carpenter and even Jeff Samardzija to become difference-makers.

At the start of spring training, Samardzija turned around a question from a Boston reporter about what he knew of Epsteins Red Sox by saying: They have big shoes to fill after Jim left.

Samardzija still has the guts and the personality that made him a football star at the University of Notre Dame. At the age of 27, hes showing that the 10 million investment was worth it, pitching like a potential All-Star.

Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) laughed when a reporter mentioned that it seems like his perception has gone from being a total bust to the only untouchable player on the Cubs roster.

Its probably somewhere in the middle, Samardzija said. Thats the way it goes, especially with the media and things like that. Everything seems to have to be on the poles. Nothings ever really in the middle. Everything seems like its got to be a definitive: Hes terrible. Or a definitive: Hes gonna be great.

If you look at most cases, its somewhere in between that. A lot of it just has to do with development. Certain guys develop differently. Some guys want to develop. Some guys want to just stay the same.

I just knew that four or five years ago, I had a lot that I needed to improve on and I didnt really care what people were writing or what was being said. I just knew what I needed to (do).

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod believe that keeping pitchers healthy is the next frontier, and that power arms show up more in the postseason. So they will pore over medical records and analyze video, to see which mechanics are cleaner and more likely to avoid a breakdown.

But Cubs scouts have also been challenged to get more information than the other area guy, to talk to more people around the school and establish a better relationship with the family, to find out what makes the player tick.

Carpenter graduated from Trinity High School in New Hampshire and made his big-league debut less than a month after his 22nd birthday.

But Carpenter didnt really start to put it all together until he was almost 30, while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2005, he won the Cy Young Award and the first of his two World Series rings.

I dont know what separates you, Carpenter said. My goal was to try to make it to the major leagues. I did everything I could to make sure that when I was done, if I didnt make it, I knew I tried as hard as I could.

Halladay made his big-league debut at the age of 21, near the end of the 1998 season. But by 2001, he was busted back to Class-A Dunedin, restarting the climb that would help him win the Cy Young in both leagues.

Halladay didnt have his real breakthrough until the age of 25, winning 19 games and accounting for 239 13 innings, foreshadowing the Philadelphia Phillies ace that would become known as the best pitcher on the planet.

The Cubs will say the right things and feel great about their choices across the next three days. The challenge will be staying the course.

Thats just part of the game, Carpenter said. You always have to have patience, of course. Unfortunately, at some point in time, if theyre not doing what you think or what you projected, you have to move on.

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

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USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.