Blackhawks

Mundelein's Borucki hopes to bounce back

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Mundelein's Borucki hopes to bounce back

Kentucky freshman basketball sensation Anthony Davis isn't the only teenager from the Chicago area who likely will parley an unexpected but sizeable growth spurt into a promising career in professional sports.Meet Mundelein's Ryan Borucki, a fire-balling left-handed pitcher who has leaped ahead of his rivals to become one of the leading major league prospects in the Midwest this spring. Not bad for a kid whose baseball hero is Scott Podsednik.Two years ago, Borucki was a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder who threw a 76 mph fastball, not hard enough to break a pane of glass. This year, the 18-year-old senior is a 6-foot-4, 175-pounder whose 92 mph heater regularly draws as many as 30 major league scouts to his games."I wanted to play college baseball but I didn't grow so I didn't think it would happen," Borucki said. "Then I started to grow and began to throw harder. It was nerve-wracking to see all those scouts standing behind the screen with radar guns."There was pressure at first. When I made my first start, I thought I had to impress them. Now I just want to help my team win and whatever happens with the pros...well, it happens. Sure, I want to play pro ball. It always has been my goal since I was a kid. If I get the opportunity, I'll take it."So you can imagine that this is a very trying time for the 18-year-old youngster. He can't pitch. He has been shut down for about 10 days with tendonitis in his elbow. He won't throw again until next week. And the major league draft is just around the corner.He developed a soreness in his elbow in the fifth inning while pitching a no-hitter against Cary-Grove last week. He wanted to complete the no-hitter so he didn't tell anyone. He finished the no-hitter and struck out13 along the way. That was the good news. Then came the bad news."I thought I would bounce back. But I didn't," Borucki said. "When the soreness didn't go away, I wondered what was wrong. Tommy John surgery ran through my mind a couple of times. I was sleeping and thinking about it. But once I went to the doctor and he assured me that it wasn't serious, it took a big weight off my back."The major league draft is coming up (June 4) and I'm missing 10 days, one or two starts. Hopefully, I'll get back as fast as possible. The scouts say I'll be drafted in the first 10 rounds, maybe as high as the sixth round. That's good enough to send me to the minors."Borucki, who also is committed to Iowa and could opt to attend college rather than sign out of high school, was off to a sensational start this spring. He is 3-0. In 12 23 innings, he has allowed only four hits and no earned runs. He has struck out 21 while walking only three.He plays first base when not pitching and is one of Mundelein's top batsmen. He is hitting .343 with eight RBI and eight doubles in 12 games. The Mustangs are 13-2 after beating Evanston1-0 on Saturday."Ryan is a late bloomer. He was our No. 3 pitcher last year. But he grew three inches and added 6-7 mph on his fastball. Now every time he pitches, 20 to 30 scouts show up," said Mundelein coach Todd Parola."I'm not surprised. Scouts love lefties who throw hard. My only concern is that Ryan continues to pitch and not become a thrower who wants to see how hard he can throw. Scouts like his velocity. I still think he has an upside. He is lean and lanky. He can fill out. He has more potential for growth."Borucki agrees. He loves to eat but, for whatever reason, he can't see to put on weight. He wants to weigh 195-200 pounds but despite a nutritional diet that calls for more meat and vegetables and rice, he doesn't gain any weight. And he refuses to give up pizza, soda pop and candy."I guess that's what gives me such a upside, why the scouts project me as having the potential to grow bigger," Borucki said. "I can fill out. It's a plus that I'm skinny for the time being."One thing is certain: his fastball is getting faster. He has been working with Kyle Zaleski, who operates an elite power pitching program at the Libertyville Sports Complex. Under Zaleski's tutelage, Borucki's progress has been dramatic."He has helped to increase my velocity," Borucki said. "His whole thing is you should throw five miles per hour faster after the program is done, from November to March. It has worked for me. Last year, I was throwing 82 miles per hour as a junior. I was throwing 86 at the beginning of the season, then 88 this year. I threw 92 at the Super 60 on Super Bowl Sunday. Kyle thinks I can throw faster. If I fill out, I can hit 95-plus. And that makes my changeup even more effective."Borucki and Parola agree on something else: his best pitch is his changeup, not his fastball. And a changeup becomes even more effective when the guy who's throwing it also has a 92 mph fastball instead of 76. He also has a sidewinder curve that puts left-handed batters on their heels."It was a tough assignment when I got bigger and stronger," Borucki said. "I didn't know how to pitch before. I was a first baseman. My changeup was my best pitch. When I was younger, I worked on it because I couldn't throw the ball past anyone. I was a junk-baller. The changeup was my go-to pitch. I had to learn to spot pitches. I could throw it down the middle as a freshman but it will be hit hard on the varsity level. Now I can throw all three pitches for strikes."There was a time when Borucki thought he was a hard-hitting first baseman, not a pitcher. In fact, he still prefers being a position player who plays every day. As a sophomore, he considered himself to be a hitter. His father still throws batting practice to his son every day. They've been doing it since Ryan was 5 years old."I liked playing every day. That's the most fun I get in baseball," Ryan said. "But pitching is fun, too. I like pitching more and more as I get older."His dream would be to be drafted by the Chicago White Sox, his favorite team. Growing up, he always favored the White Sox over the Cubs. And he became an especially big man when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and his favorite player, Scott Podsednik, emerged as a World Series hero."Nobody else was a fan of his. He was a silent guy," Borucki said. "But when he hit that walkoff home run in Game 2...well, I really became a big fan."

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.