White Sox

Montini aims for fourth in a row

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Montini aims for fourth in a row

As he packed his bags for his annual fishing excursion to his favorite hideaway in Canada, Montini football coach Chris Andriano was reminded about the past, the present and the future. Even the thought of a Walleye tugging on the end of a lure couldn't change that.

"Retirement? I'm getting close. I retired from teaching this year. I've got a plan for three more years," said the 60-year-old Andriano. "If my health is good and they want me to stick around...we'll see. I'll re-evaluate after three years. But my grandchildren are getting to the point of being more active. I want to watch them do things."

Andriano insists he has no goals left to achieve, no more worlds to conquer. "I've accomplished everything I could possibly think of," he said.

Or has he?

In his 33-year career, Andriano has posted a 244-117 record, a winning percentage of .676. He has produced four state championship teams--2004, 2009, 2010, 2011.

If he wins another title in 2012, he would equal the achievements of three legendary coaches who won four state titles in a row--Joliet Catholic's Gordie Gillespie in 1975-78, Mount Carmel's Frank Lenti in 1988-91 and Providence's Matt Senffner in 1994-97.

Andriano is cautiously optimistic about his 2012 squad. How do you replace Jordan Westerkamp, the sensational wide receiver who has taken his record-breaking act to Nebraska? How do you improve on last year's 70-45 victory over Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A final?

And how about this? Despite all of his success--he is 45-9 in the last four years--he never has coached an unbeaten team.

"Will this be my best team ever?" Andriano said. "It is to be determined. It will be pretty hard to top the last few years in certain ways. This is a very good team overall. We're planning on a deep playoff run. We have good leadership, overall athleticism, very good athletes at all positions and a very good group of linemen.

"But I don't think of winning four in a row. We just want to prepare these kids for what they will see, a target on everybody's schedule. We try to look at things in the short term. You can't be looking too far ahead. Four in a row would be awesome. But it would be about a lot of people."

It will start out with a bang on Aug. 24. Montini will open at Palatine, Andriano's alma mater. On that night, Palatine will induct Andriano into its Hall of Fame.

So how did he approach his players on Wednesday, the first day of practice?

"The first thing we talk about is being in shape and mentally ready and prepared to play 14 games," Andriano said. "We want to practice on Thanksgiving Day and play on the final weekend.

"It is a process. It is a lot of hard work. A lot has already gone into this. We have the right ingredients to make it happen. Our philosophy always is the same--do your best."

Andriano credits offensive coordinator Lewis Borsellino for much of the success. A graduate of Montini and a former assistant at Maine South, Borsellino joined Andriano's staff five years ago and brought Maine South's high-powered offense with him. "Look at the results. We put points on the board," Andriano said.

Football has become a monster at the Lombard school...new uniforms for this season, a 3,000-seat playing facility with artificial turf for the second year, lights for the third year. "There is an air of excitement for the football program," Andriano said.

In Westerkamp's absence, the leader of the 2012 squad will be Joey Borsellino, Lewis' son and the eighth Borsellino to play for Andriano. The senior wide receiver brings an intensity and love for the game that Andriano had as a high school star. Last year, he caught 70 passes for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"He is Montini. He lives and eats and breathes Montini, like Westerkamp," Andriano said about the youngster. "He is demanding. He understands what it takes to win."

The line features 6-foot-4, 290-pound guard Tate Briggs, 6-foot-3, 255-pound end Fred Beaugard and 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior end Dylan Thompson, whom Andriano describes as one of the leading underclass linemen in the Chicago area.

Tailback Dimitri Taylor, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. He is being recruited by Eastern Illinois and Illinois State. With Taylor's experience and athleticism, the running game can be expected to be a bigger part of Montini's offense in 2012.

Others to watch are senior wide receiver Mark Gorogianis and kickerpunter Andrew Harte, described as "the best kicker I have had" by Andriano.

Andriano has produced a string of gifted quarterbacks in recent years, all of whom scared the daylights out of opposing secondaries. But this is a rare occasion when he goes into preseason practice without knowing who his starting quarterback is. He insists that will change very quickly.

The job will be given to junior Jimmy Barron, a transfer from Wheaton Warrenville South who was the starter on the sophomore squad last year, or junior Alex Wills, who was the backup on the sophomore squad last year.

"It is pretty even. They battled all summer. But I'm looking to make a decision in the first week of practice," Andriano said. "We don't have a Division I quarterback. We won't throw as much this year, especially early. But I am confident one of them will take charge. We must do a good job of teaching the quarterback to handle the ball and not turn it over."

The names may be different. But the game is the same. So is the philosophy.

"We've been through this. We know what we are doing," Andriano said. "When you are in it long enough, you learn what you have to do to get ready and what to prepare for. We have learned a process or system of preparing for games. Our kids are very well prepared."

As Luis Robert keeps blasting balls into space, the White Sox team of the future is near

As Luis Robert keeps blasting balls into space, the White Sox team of the future is near

We're all just going to have to assume this was a home run.

The video evidence is sketchy, considering Luis Robert hit a ball so hard, so high, so far that cameras were unable to capture it leaving the park.

Robert's feat of strength Monday night is just the latest to get everyone all revved up over his inevitable major league future. The revving will perhaps have to wait through the winter, though. If the way the White Sox handled Eloy Jimenez (and his accompanying service-time questions) last year is any indication, the team might opt to finish the 2019 campaign without Robert making his big league debut. And while there are indeed good arguments to be made about the experience that Robert would get in a month or more at the major league level in 2019, there's a pretty convincing argument to be made involving the White Sox being able to employ this elite baseball player for as long as possible.

There will be plenty of folks upset if the White Sox do with Robert what they did with Jimenez, but go ahead and watch that highlight again, think about 2020 and feel better. Because if anything, it shows that the White Sox team of the future is as close to a reality as it's ever been.

That's not to say that 2020 will most definitely be the year the rebuilt White Sox start their reign of terror atop the American League or that a dynastic vice-like grip on the sport is a lock once Robert reaches the bigs. But the contention window we've been discussing for three years now could start to open as soon as next season. And while this year will feature another frustrating finish without a playoff appearance and without a winning record, the pieces are mostly in place to bring to life those roster projections every South Side baseball fan has been scribbling since Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded away after the 2016 season.

Catcher

James McCann has been a heck of a find by Rick Hahn's front office. His transformation from non-tendered Detroit Tiger into an All Star threw the future of the position into question, in a good way, providing an alternative to wait-and-see prospects, however highly thought of they might be.

McCann slumped hard to start the second half, contributing to the White Sox post-break blues. But he's been fantastic once more in August, heading into Monday's game with a .377/.431/.623 slash line to go along with a pair of grand slams in the last week.

And that's just at the plate. Behind it, McCann has earned rave reviews for the ceaseless work he does with the team's pitching staff, getting a never-ending stream of compliments from fellow All Star Lucas Giolito. Under team control for 2020, bringing him back is a no-brainer for Hahn.

First base

Jose Abreu is aging, but that hasn't stopped him from driving in runs. Like McCann, he slumped hard out of the All-Star break, and it remains true that he's heading for career lows in on-base percentage and walks. But he's also on pace for career bests in home runs and RBIs, a pace aided by a titanic blast to center field Monday night at Target Field. That three-run drive helped the White Sox take down the Minnesota Twins and showed how dangerous Abreu still is in the box, as if his two-homer night last week against the Los Angeles Angels didn't do that job.

Of course, it's his off-field contributions that might be the most valuable to this young White Sox team. With Abreu as the mentor for Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Robert, the White Sox could combine the talent with Abreu's unmatched work ethic, getting a fleet of mini Abreus. That certainly sounds worth a new contract for the soon-to-be free agent, and all signs have pointed to him being back with the team all season long.

Second base

Robert's teammate down in Charlotte is doing his own job raking. Nick Madrigal, last summer's first-round draft pick, would be the one getting fans all worked up if wasn't for Robert's nightly superhuman exploits. Like Robert, Madrigal is playing at his third level of the season. Unlike Robert, Triple-A isn't going quite as swimmingly as Double-A. With Birmingham, Madrigal was unreal, batting .341 with a .400 on-base percentage. He's cooled off a bit with Charlotte, the owner of a .290 average and a .367 on-base percentage through Monday night's contest.

But he's still north of .300 and .360, respectively, on the season as a whole, and that goes along with what the organization projects could be Gold Glove caliber defense at second. It makes for another thrilling prospect that folks can't wait to see at the major league level, and Madrigal's time figures to come not too deep into the 2020 season.

Shortstop

Tim Anderson's breakout year continues. Like McCann, Anderson's bat has also been electric in August, with a .411/.434/.548 slash line on the month coming into Monday night, when his streak of five straight multi-hit games was snapped. If not for a month-long injury absence, Anderson would be chasing a batting title.

And, importantly, while his walk numbers still leave plenty to be desired, a guy who started the season with a .286 career on-base percentage is reaching base at a .352 clip this season.

There were plenty of questions surrounding Anderson's ability to truly be the team's dependable shortstop of the future. And while there are still things like the lack of walks and a large number of errors in the field, he's answered those questions resoundingly.

Third base

Moncada has been the White Sox best player in 2019. He's nearing a return from a hamstring strain that's kept him on the injured list for the entirety of August, but he's still the owner of a .301/.358/.535 slash line, sky-high improvements in every category after a disappointing first full year in the majors in 2018, one that saw him strike out 217 times.

Moncada's already got 20 home runs and 59 RBIs in 97 games, he's played very good defense after being moved to third base in spring training, and he was talked up by anyone with a recorder in front of their face as an All-Star snub of sorts back in June and July.

He's looking like the All-Star type player he was billed as when the White Sox acquired the No. 1 prospect in baseball just a year after being decried as a bust by quick-to-react tweeters.

Outfield

There's Robert, obviously, who should make his major league debut no later than a few weeks into the 2019 season, though the team has announced no plans yet. Robert's looking like the five-tool force of nature he's been hyped as since his signing as an international free agent out of Cuba. He's just 22 years old and has turned the minor leagues into his own personal playground, hitting mammoth home runs and making jaw-dropping plays in the field. It sure seems like this La Pantera character is going to be OK.

So, too, do repeated positive signs flash from Jimenez, the previous prospect to tear up the minors and send everyone into a daily Twitter frenzy. Jimenez is undoubtedly going through the to-be-expected growing pains and learning moments of a player in his first full major league season, but he's also blasted eye-popping homers to dead center that have repeatedly disturbed the batter's eye foliage at Guaranteed Rate Field. He hit two homers during the weekend series in Anaheim.

No, he's not setting the world on fire, as some expected, but he's showing what's possible. And if Moncada could turn a disappointing 2018 season into what's he's doing in 2019, why can't Jimenez make a similar jump?

Designated hitter

The White Sox might be able to again use McCann's emergence to their advantage and put Zack Collins in the DH spot on a fairly regular basis. Collins has been on fire since briefly appearing in the major leagues and getting some offensive critiques from the folks at the big league level. He's got a .375/.470/.698 slash line since returning to Charlotte that would seem to make any lingering questions about his defense behind the plate somewhat irrelevant when that kind of bat can just be put at DH.

Perhaps, should Abreu make his expected return, even a first base/designated hitter timeshare that was supposed to materialize with Yonder Alonso could be implemented with Abreu and Collins instead,

Starting rotation

Giolito was an All Star this year, completely transforming from the pitcher with the highest ERA among qualified starters in 2018 to the ace of the White Sox staff.

Reynaldo Lopez had a miserable first half but has been a completely different pitcher, as promised, since the All-Star break, with a 2.91 second-half ERA, even after the five runs he gave up last Thursday.

Dylan Cease has struggled since his promotion to the majors, but the rave reviews about his stuff and his composure and the way he dominated the minor leagues last season provide the White Sox with plenty of confidence that a turnaround is possible. Giolito's dramatic turnaround adds credence to that idea, too.

And then there's Michael Kopech, the pitcher who's been discussed as the one who could be the best of the group. He'll be back from Tommy John surgery sometime next season, completely healthy by spring training but perhaps requiring a little time in the minors to start the year. We'll see.

Anyway, that's four young hurlers who will demand rotation spots in 2020, and that's without even accounting for the starting pitching Hahn has on his offseason shopping list.

Bullpen

The White Sox have discovered a potentially potent late-inning combination in Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer, who the team opted not to trade at this year's deadline. Colome's growing track record as a dominant closer — he's saved 120 games in the last four seasons, including 24 this year with the White Sox — and Bummer's emergence as a setup man extraordinaire with a 1.80 ERA on the season figure to cross late-inning bullpen help off the list of upgrades Hahn needs to make this offseason and potentially off the wish list for next year's deadline, too.

— — —

So despite any social-media griping, that's almost the entire lineup fans have been dreaming of for years either at the major league level or right on the doorstep by the time 2020 begins. Though fans, rightfully, have been frustrated during seasons' worth of losing at the major league level during this rebuilding project, Hahn's suggestion that the White Sox, because of the trades and signings that injected an incredible amount of talent into the organization, could be ahead of schedule in their rebuild could prove true. At the very least, the White Sox should have many of the pieces to put their contention puzzle together in the 2020 season.

There are perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical that will be the case. But go dust off that "team of the future" lineup projection you put together a while back. It looks a lot like the White Sox projected 2020 lineup, doesn't it? And I haven't even mentioned Dane Dunning or Carlos Rodon or a potential free-agent or trade acquisition to take up the mysterious spot in right field.

Another frustrating season without a playoff appearance and without a winning record will close itself out over the next month and a half. But the rebuild train remains on the tracks. It remains on schedule, too.

Don't believe me? Go find Robert's home-run ball. You might need a spacesuit.

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison

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USA TODAY

Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison

Zach LaVine has been getting in great work all summer long and he kept it up on Monday, working out at the Stance Socks Headquarters in San Clemente, CA. 

LaVine's workout was with 'Pro's Vision', which included UCLA alumni Darren Collison, who was believed to be headed to the Bulls before he abruptly retired this offseason

This offseason Pro Vision has also worked out with New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball in an effort to help him diversify his game ahead of a crucial season for him in a new setting. 

LaVine will be looking to have an improved year after a solid 2018-19 season, in which LaVine averaged a career-best 23.7 PPG while playing over 2000 minutes for just the second time in his career. 

Heading into the 2019-20 season the Bulls are dealing with higher expectations but should be able to meet them reasonably, as they have added veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky to a roster full of young talent.

LaVine should take a step forward in the 2019-20 season and with an increase in either his playmaking, scoring efficiency and/or overall scoring output, we could see him make an All-Star leap as the 2020 All-Star Weekend takes place in Chicago. 

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