White Sox

Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

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Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

Sometimes we can't see the forest through the trees, right? Sometimes we get too comfortable by accepting evaluations from basketball recruiting analysts we know and trust, old standbys such as Bob Gibbons, Van Coleman, Bill Flanagan and Roy and Harv Schmidt.

So, at a time when the classes of 2013 and 2014 in the Chicago area are being touted to be among the best talent in the country, perhaps it is wise to acknowledge what other evaluators have to say about them.

Are they as good as we think they are? Or are they overrated? Do they rank with the Isiah ThomasTerry CummingsTeddy Grubbs class of 1979? Or the Quentin RichardsonCorey MaggetteJoey Range class of 1998?

The Illinois crop got plenty of exposure in recent tournaments in Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Akron and elsewhere. And judging from the reviews, they played up to their clippings.

Here is a sampling of what the critics saw:

N.D. Kendrick of NBE Basketball Report on Simeon's Jabari Parker: "He showed throughout the tournament against some of the best players in the Midwest that he was the best of the elite."

Kendrick on Proviso East's Sterling Brown: "He is one of the most physically gifted players in the 2013 class. What sets him apart from others is his combination of power and athleticism which makes him a difficult match-up for opponents."

Eric Bossi of Rivals.com on St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens: "It's hard not to be impressed with the development of Purdue commitment Kendall Stephens over the last year. While he's still slender, he's gotten much stronger, grown to a legit 6-foot-4 and boosted his athleticism."

Bossi on Normal University High's Keita Bates-Diop: "He showed plenty of what got him ranked No. 39 in the country. The 6-foot-7 forward has length, ball skills and is a graceful athlete who is light on his feet and plays with a high level of intelligence."

Bossi on Morgan Park's Kyle Davis: "One of the most athletic playmakers in the country, he plays with attitude, swagger and never stops attacking. Previously viewed as a bit of an undersized shooting guard, Davis is proving that he's a point guard and with his performance this spring he has built a pretty strong case to be included in the Rivals 150 the next time the class is updated."

Bossi on Jordan Ash, St. Joseph's freshman guard: "He didn't really get a chance to show off his entire arsenal because he was playing for the Illinois Wolves' 16 and 15-and-under squads. But it's easy to see what has drawn early offers from Purdue and DePaul to go along with lots of Big Ten interest."

Bossi on 6-foot-7 sophomore Amanze Egezeke of Huntley: "He is a lunch pailbig-time effort guy who plays physically and gets on the glass. He is a potential high major Division I recruit."

Jim Comparoni of Yahoo Sports on Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor: "He was dominant inside, utilizing his substantial width and showing excellent ability to elevate quickly and finish with power. Inside, he is patient, powerful and improving rapidly with his post game."

Bossi on Okafor: "Already ranked No. 3 overall in the class of 2014, there isn't exactly a lot of room for Okafor to move up in the rankings. However, that doesn't mean that there's not room for him to get a lot better. That's exactly what he's been doing. He's expanded his game and can face up and attack from the high post thanks to excellent hands, nimble feet and a surprisingly tight handle."

Bossi on Orr's Tyquone Greer: "There will be several more opportunities to watch Greer to confirm this--but all the information we have leads us to believe that he's a no-brainer as a four-star prospect. The 6-foot-5 small forward is a big-time athlete with a big-time penchant for getting to the rim and he's got significant upside."

Jeff Borello of Eye on College Basketball Recruiting on Okafor: "He has tremendous hands and is adept at finishing down low. He does need to become more aggressive with his back to the basket but he has a good set of post moves and simply overpowers many defenders."

Jason Pratt of Future150 on Okafor: "He is the nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2014. He has a body that absolutely pounds you on the low block and is a force on the defensive end of the floor. He is being compared to Ohio State star Jared Sullinger. He has the size and skill to dominate the game whenever he chooses."

Pratt on Curie's Cliff Alexander: "He is quick for a 6-foot-9 post player and shows good athleticism for a player his size. He reminds me of Dennis Rodman because he is an elite rebounder. He is a game-changer because he can control the paint, not only scoring but blocking shots as well."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendrick Nunn: "There are some who have been down on his performance this spring. But, on this night, he turned it up on the defensive end where he can be one of the best in the country when locked in. Once he got going there, his jumper started dropping. Ranked No. 22 in the class of 2013 by Rivals, he played up his ranking."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendall Pollard: "At 6-foot-5, he is a big-time athlete with a nose for the rim and some scoring tools. He plays with great energy. Whether he is playing with his high school team or his club team Mean Streets, he shares the spotlight with some guys who have a lot of notoriety."

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

The White Sox are heading into the shortened 2020 season with the same expectations they had back when they thought they’d be playing a 162-game schedule: to leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

They sure look capable of doing just that. And while it wouldn’t be possible without the emergence of the young core last season, you can’t build a contender solely from homegrown stars.

Rick Hahn followed through on this February 2018 declaration that “the money will be spent” with a super busy offseason that saw him add to nearly every facet of the roster. He remade the White Sox lineup, adding some power and on-base skills after the team sorely lacked in both areas a year ago. He added some dependability to a starting rotation that still seeks answers from its young, talented arms. And he even strengthened the back end of the bullpen with a proven late-inning option.

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All that work got fans super excited, and though the moves were a mixture of short- and long-term contracts, they all mesh together to provide the kind of fuel that can power the White Sox drive toward the top of the AL Central.

First was Yasmani Grandal, who signed before Thanksgiving, and though he — and everyone else, for that matter — has been overshadowed during “Summer Camp” by rookie five-tooler Luis Robert, he’s probably the most important newcomer to this 2020 group of South Siders. Robert will, the idea is, be around for the better part of the next decade, and superstar status might not be far off, if his teammates’ reviews are a reflection of reality. But Grandal sees the White Sox future in their pitching, the reason he keeps giving for why he bought into Hahn’s long-term vision and signed the biggest free-agent deal in club history.

A catcher, Grandal plays a position where it’s hard to find a long-term fill. White Sox fans don’t need to be reminded of that and can probably rattle off the name of everyone the team’s tried there since A.J. Pierzynski’s departure. Grandal is rated highly as a pitch-framer, a valuable skill until the robots come for the umpires’ jobs. He’s got good defensive numbers and is known as a quality influence on pitchers. The White Sox have a lot of young hurlers, some who still need to figure things out at the major league level — or have yet to even get there — and Grandal is going to be around for at least the next four years to shepherd them into what the team hopes is a lengthy contention window.

But Grandal is a huge upgrade with the bat, too. No offense to the All-Star numbers James McCann turned in during the first half last season, but Grandal has a much longer track record of being one of the more productive offensive catchers in the game. He was an All Star, too, last season, a career year that saw him hit 28 homers, drive in 77 runs and — perhaps most importantly — walk a whopping 109 times. That walk total was one of baseball’s highest last season and a gigantic addition to a White Sox lineup that, as a team, had the fewest walks in the game in 2019.

Grandal was the big fish that bought in first, but it might be Dallas Keuchel who ends up serving as the White Sox version of Jon Lester. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume. He knows how to win, and he’s bringing his veteran know-how to that same young pitching staff. He’s already receiving rave reviews for how he’s worked with the White Sox young arms.

“Talking about Dallas, you don’t have enough time in a daily day to say all the positives he brings to the table,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said last week. “He’s the ultimate professional, a guy who goes out there and is an amazing teammate. What he builds, the chemistry in that clubhouse, and takes guys under the wing, the way to go about it as a true professional.

“His history has shown he’s a winner in every aspect, on the field and off the field, in the clubhouse. We are very very fortunate as an organization to have him to help us as an organization and help everybody in that clubhouse.”

But it’s his dependability every fifth day that will be the biggest plus for the White Sox, who outside of Lucas Giolito struggled to find much consistency from their starters during the 89-loss campaign a year ago. If White Sox fans turn up their noses at a Cubs comp, though, then let’s call Keuchel a potential Mark Buehrle type. Like the South Side legend, he’s got a closet full of Gold Gloves, and he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished without exactly blowing people away like Michael Kopech. With Keuchel and Giolito paired at the top of the starting staff, the White Sox have a reliable 1-2 punch that would sound pretty good as the first two starters in a playoff series.

RELATED: White Sox staff leader Lucas Giolito ready to rock, hopeful for multiple aces

To get there, though, the White Sox will have to outslug — or slug right along with — the division-rival Minnesota Twins. Before the previous offseason, this team just wasn’t capable of doing that. Grandal adds some power to the lineup, as does Robert and another newcomer in Nomar Mazara, but the White Sox have a new big bopper in Edwin Encarnación. The guy’s hit at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. Like José Abreu, he’s a proven and consistent veteran slugger who provides not just production but the peace of mind that the production will be there. He also brings an imaginary parrot.

The White Sox lineup is significantly more menacing with Encarnación in the middle of it, and for a team that ranked toward baseball’s bottom in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, it’s one heck of an upgrade.

“It gives us depth,” McEwing said of Encarnación last week. “It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer. And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it what he means to this ball club, not just in the clubhouse but on the field. When he steps in the box, it’s a presence that is the model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence.”

And it’d be wrong to exclude Steve Cishek from this group. He’s the newcomer at the back end of the White Sox bullpen. Teamed with Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer, a unit that was a strength last year is now stronger. While Hahn will be the first to remind you of the volatility of relief pitching from one season to the next, Cishek brings a nice track record, including some high-stakes moments during his two-year stint with the Cubs. That time on the North Side showed durability, if nothing else, as Joe Maddon called on Cishek a whopping 150 times in two years.

The White Sox are obviously in the position they’re in because of the meticulous work of bringing young talent into the organization and getting it to the big leagues. But it’s free-agent splashes that truly move the needle in a fan base starved for championship contention. The White Sox did that, too, over the winter, reaching the always planned-for phase of the rebuild when they started adding win-now pieces.

Grandal and Keuchel are multi-year additions that fit in with Hahn’s long-term planning. Encarnación and Cishek? Maybe more like hired guns. Regardless, they’ll all have an impact on the 2020 team, and their presence is a big reason why the White Sox look ready to take the next step.


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Bears tight ends ranked among NFL's worst by Pro Football Focus

Bears tight ends ranked among NFL's worst by Pro Football Focus

The Chicago Bears have a lot of tight ends on their roster. Nine, to be exact. Of those nine, rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet is the most exciting, while veteran free-agent signing Jimmy Graham is the most baffling.

Tight end was one of Chicago's biggest weaknesses in 2019 and Ryan Pace did his best to fix the problem this offseason. Whether or not he accomplished that goal is up for debate.

According to Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of all 32 tight end groups, he didn't. The Bears came in at No. 26.

The Bears are taking a see-what-sticks approach to the position, as seven other players are competing for the last one or two spots, but this unit’s success will be determined by what Graham has left in the passing game and how ready Kmet is to be a viable contributor as a receiver and as a run blocker. Even with the hefty offseason investment, Chicago’s tight ends come with plenty of question marks.

Graham will be the most heavily scrutinized of the bunch in 2020. The Bears signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal in free agency following a season where it looked like Graham was better suited for retirement than a lucrative multi-year deal. He's a big reason why Chicago's tight ends are still viewed as weakness. As PFF aptly stated, the Bears are, at best, a question mark when it comes to the position.

If Kmet doesn't quickly adjust to the NFL game and make an impact early in his pro career, the Bears' offense will be hamstrung once again by its lack of playmaking tight ends.