White Sox

Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

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Mount Carmel's Laurisch too good to be true

On the surface, Tyler (T.J.) Laurisch is simply too good to be true. But his academic test scores and his baseball statistics don't lie.

On the baseball field, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior is the leader of Mount Carmel's baseball team that was ranked No. 1 in the Chicago area prior to Saturday's 1-0 loss to St. Laurence. It snapped the Caravan's 23-game winning streak and spoiled its bid to become only the fourth unbeaten state champion in the 72-year history of the Illinois high school tournament.

Laurisch, a pitcher, third baseman and outfielder, bats third in the lineup and is hitting .375 with six doubles and 18 runs-batted-in. As his team's No. 1 starting pitcher, he is 8-1 with a 1.93 earned run average in 50 23 innings with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks.

In a year in which veteran observers claim there is no prohibitive favorite for Player of the Year recognition, as was the case in recent years, Laurisch has emerged as a worthy candidate. What other player has contributed so much to his team's success?

"He is a complete player," Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry said. "He impacts our team more because of his role and the success he has in those roles. He is our No. 3 hitter, our No. 1 pitcher and plays three positions. Because of what he means to our team, he deserves to be considered for Player of the Year."

"Player of the Year? I don't think of myself as an individual, just part of the team, what the coach always preaches," Laurisch said. "But It would mean everything to me. To put up the numbers I have, it would mean that all the hard work we put in during the off-season is paying off."

In the classroom, Laurisch ranks No. 1 in the senior class. He scored 34 on the ACT, including a perfect score in math. On Tuesday, he will decide whether he will enroll at Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study mechanical engineering and play baseball.

"Harvard is Division I, MIT is Division III. Harvard has the edge there. But MIT is the top engineering school in the country," he said. "When it comes down to it, it will be about financial aid, who gives me the best deal. I would like to go to Harvard if they provide the money."

Laurisch has other things going for him. He is vice president of the student council and vice president of the school's chapter of the National Honor Society. He also is a member of the mock trial team and the Scholastic Bowl team, all while finding time to study four hours after school and play soccer with his 13-year old sister Alexia.

"I've always been academically inclined. My parents stressed education first. Then I could go out and play sports," he said. "I was always encouraged to get straight A's. In high school, I've received nothing lower than an A-plus. My lowest grade was a B-plus in fifth grade social studies. I was disappointed. I knew the reason I got it was I didn't study enough and blew off a test. I told myself I wouldn't do it again.

"The trick is to stay focused. I set my sights on a goal and I won't let myself not achieve it. Since my freshman year, I wanted to be No. 1 in my class. Grades have always been important to me. As freshmen, everybody tried to get a feel for who was most competitive. I'm extremely competition in class and on the field."

He started playing baseball at age four. As a freshman, he played basketball and baseball, but he quickly realized that basketball conflicted with his work on the Scholastic Bowl team. So he pursued academics. He acknowledged that baseball was his best sport, something he couldn't give up.

"Baseball is different from other sports," he said. "I approach athletics like academics. You fail a lot in baseball, in hitting and pitching. You face a lot of adversity. You will go 0-for-5 or give up three runs in an inning. You have to be resilient. The big challenge is how you keep your composure when you strike out three times in a row."

According to Laurisch, losing last year to eventual state champion Lyons in the Class AA semifinals was a turning point. "We got hungrier. For the seniors, it was sad. As a junior, I knew I wouldn't do anything to prevent us from winning state this year. It's a result of all of us buying into what the coach preaches, ever since winter workouts. The only way we will win is if we work as a team," he said.

"Coming back from last year (he batted .390 and won seven of 10 decisions on the mound), I knew my pitching had to be more refined...more control and velocity, spotting my pitches, knowing when to throw my slider and fastball, knowing what to do in certain situations.

"As a hitter, I'm seeing the ball a lot better. Last year, I was leaning back too much. My weight transfer was off. This year I'm picking up pitches better out of the pitcher's hand."

Laurisch isn't the only one reason why Mount Carmel is 23-1 going into Monday's game at Loyola. He is one of seven very experienced players from last year's 34-9 squad. Others are first baseman Sam Kint, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior who is hitting .402 with 33 RBI; senior catcher Dan Pappas, who is hitting .349 with 14 RBI; and junior shortstop Jerry Houston, who is hitting .440 with 11 doubles, 22 RBI and 29 runs scored.

Kint set school records for homers and RBI's last year. Pappas, nephew of former Mount Carmel star and major leaguer Erik Pappas, is committed to West Virginia and described by Hurry as "the heart and soul of our team, our leader, the guy who controls the game."

Hurry, who has a record of 366-128 since becoming head coach in 2000, has developed the winningest program in the state over the last decade. This year's team is seeking a sixth sectional title since 2002. He qualified for the state quarterfinals in 2003 and lost to Lockport in the Class AA final in 2005.

He has produced six players who signed professional contracts and sent 60 players to college, over 20 to Division I programs. But he insists that Houston "can be the best player I have coached. He will be a pro prospect. Because of his overall talent and skills, he is our best player, our leadoff hitter, our catalyst on offense. He is a special talent," Hurry said.

Hurry, 38, a 1991 graduate of St. Francis de Sales, was a reserve middle infielder for legendary coach Gordie Gillespie's 1993 NAIA championship team at College of St. Francis.

While student teaching and coaching baseball at St. Francis de Sales in 1997, Hurry was looking for a social studies job and was told of an opening at Mount Carmel. He was offered a position there, as well as at Joliet Catholic. Living in Joliet at the time, he leaned to filling the vacancy at Joliet Catholic.

But he was told he would be head sophomore coach at Mount Carmel. "That was very important to me," he said. When Joliet Catholic didn't call back, he took the job at Mount Carmel. "The timing was right," he said.

Hurry inherited a very good program and a great athletic tradition to boot. In 13 seasons, his teams have averaged 29 victories per year. He also has a new field at 64th and Blackstone that he describes as "the best baseball facility in the state." And he has two able assistants who have been with him since the beginning, John Difilippo and Ish Jaquez.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Hurry said. "We're off to the best start in school history. We have depth in talent and senior leadership, a lot of guys with a lot of experience. I haven't talked to our team about our record or the rankings. We just focus on the game that day.

"Sure, I want to win them all. It would have been very special to go down in history. But the most important thing is to win the last game of the season, even if we lost three or four games. Our goal always has been to win the last game, regardless of our record."

Mount Carmel hasn't dominated opponents. In fact, last week, the Caravan won four one-run decisions and they beat Brother Rice in extra innings. Then they lost 1-0 at St. Laurence on Saturday as Laurisch was outpitched by St. Laurence's Kevin Smith, who allowed only three hits.

"The nature of the sport of baseball is different than football or basketball," Hurry said.

"One pitcher can beat you. There are a lot of uncontrollables, unlike football and basketball. In baseball, you can do a lot of things right and still not have the results. I believe baseball is the hardest sport to win. You'll never see a baseball team win 10, 11 or 12 state championships like in football."

At the moment, he'll settle for one state title.

White Sox free-agent focus: Michael Brantley

White Sox free-agent focus: Michael Brantley

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

White Sox fans know Michael Brantley all too well.

Brantley spent the first decade of his major league career as a Cleveland Indian and faced off against the South Siders on a regular basis. For the most part, he did quite well against them, the owner of a .280/.326/.418 slash line, 12 home runs and 59 RBIs against them in 116 games. So the best reason for the White Sox to sign Brantley this winter might be so they don’t have to pitch to him anymore.

Seriously, though, Brantley has put together a quietly strong big league career to this point. He’s slashing .295/.351/.430 in his career with a trio of All-Star appearances under his belt and a top-three AL MVP finish from 2014. There are certainly bigger names on the outfield market — Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock come to mind — but Brantley would be a nice fit just about anywhere.

The main concern with Brantley is his health. He played in just 101 games over the 2016 and 2017 seasons. But he played in 143 games in 2018, a positive sign.

The White Sox don’t need an outfielder like Brantley, necessarily. They’re not expected to contend for a championship in 2019, and the outfield is perhaps the deepest area in their minor league system. If they’re content to keep playing the waiting game in 2019 while all those prospects develop into the team of the future, the outfield would figure to stock itself over the next couple seasons. Eloy Jimenez, the team’s top-ranked prospect, figures to reach the majors early on next season and would figure to command an everyday corner-outfield spot. Brantley played all but seven of his games last season in left field, the same spot where Jimenez spent most of his time in the minors.

But the White Sox current major league outfield leaves a lot to be desired, with subpar offensive seasons from Adam Engel, Nicky Delmonico and Avisail Garcia in 2018 and Daniel Palka seemingly best suited for a DH role. Brantley would be an obvious upgrade from an offensive standpoint.

Plus, Brantley would bring some veteran experience to a very young team and could act in a mentor-type role among position players that James Shields was able to fill among starting pitchers last season.

But Brantley is also 31 years old, and it would be a worthwhile question to wonder whether he would align with their long-term plans.

Like with any potential signing, the White Sox have the financial flexibility to make a Brantley addition work. But it seems there are more pressing needs that need addressing and additions that could make a greater long-term impact.

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White Sox reportedly trying to trade Avisail Garcia

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USA TODAY

White Sox reportedly trying to trade Avisail Garcia

Is the Avisail Garcia Era about to come to an end on the South Side?

According to a report from MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the White Sox are trying to trade Garcia away. Feinsand added that there's a belief the White Sox could even non-tender Garcia in the absence of a trade.

Garcia came to the White Sox in the three-team Jake Peavy trade at the 2013 deadline. Yes, Garcia's been with the White Sox for more than half a decade. He didn't break out until 2017, though, batting just .257 in his first three and a half seasons with the White Sox. Then came the All-Star campaign of 2017, when he hit .330 and reached base at a .380 clip, ranking among the league leaders in both categories.

Last season, though, Garcia was hampered by a knee injury that bothered him from Opening Day on, with his hamstring sending him to the disabled list on more than one occasion. He slashed just .236/.281/.438 in 93 games, though he did set a new career high with 19 home runs.

The injuries made it very difficult to forecast what Garcia's long-term future with the White Sox might be, preventing him from being able to prove he could repeat those All-Star numbers. With one year of team control remaining, the White Sox have options. They could try to deal him this winter, as is being reported, or they could try to trade him during the season.

General manager had this to say about Garcia at last week's GM Meetings:

"We've been talking about Avi for a long time now, and I think we know him as well as anybody about what he's capable of doing when he's fully healthy, as well as some of the challenges created by the health issues for him," Hahn said. "With one year currently left of control, we're having conversations right now about how best to proceed."

With the White Sox expected to bring top prospect Eloy Jimenez, who played mostly left field in 2018, up from the minors early next season and their reported interest in free-agent right fielder Bryce Harper, there could be a desire to open up corner-outfield spots for more productive offensive players.

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