Ramirez gunning for first Gold Glove


Ramirez gunning for first Gold Glove

Alexei Ramirez has proven to be an outstanding defender since the White Sox moved him to shortstop full-time in 2009.

But this spring training, the White Sox helped him improve with a minor adjustment in his pre-pitch setup. As the team heads in its 99th game against the Texas Rangers on Friday night, Ramirez is on pace to commit a career-low 12 errors this season.

Those figures have some in the White Sox clubhouse of the belief Ramirez -- who is on pace to make the same amount of plays as last season with an improved fielding percentage -- could win his first Gold Glove this season, if he hits enough.

He has great hands, said infielder and two-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson. He has great feet. He has great range and he takes good angles at different balls in the hole. Hes smooth. I like watching him play. Hes one of the best in the game. I hope he gets the Gold Glove this year. In my eyes it is (enough), but the guys who vote say youve gotta hit.

Ramirez is hitting .268 with three homers and 46 RBIs, which ranks second among American League shortstops.

Hes even better with the glove.

Back in February, the White Sox coaching staff noticed Ramirez would stand still prior to every pitch. They believed a tiny movement before each pitch would aid their already superb defender so they filmed his actions and sat him down to watch.

He adjusted to it right away, third-base coach Joe McEwing said. Theres some guys that stand still and waggle with the pitch. But if you have some movement, now youre able to adjust quicker. Youre able to get better jumps at balls off the bat. It has helped in going side-to-side more. He has plus range and a plus arm. So if hes able to get more balls thats better for everybody.

Ramirez said through a translator the added movement has helped him to further refine a position he has only played for four seasons.

I would definitely say it has helped me a lot, Ramirez said. I have a quicker reaction now toward the ball once its hit. Its keeping me agile. Even though I did not play the position (before 2009), I practiced it, so I felt comfortable. I feel like Im learning things on a daily basis. My confidence gets up more because I watch video and pick up things I can improve on.

Ramirez has also shown he feels comfortable at the plate recently. Over his last 34 games, Ramirez has raised his batting average 53 points. He has 17 multi-hit games in that span and has given manager Robin Ventura the confidence to hit him sixth in the absence of catcher A.J. Pierzynski the previous two games.

But will those totals be enough for Rawlings to contact Ramirez this offseason?

Its a shame that, at times, the Gold Glove is a hitting award, McEwing said. We think hes one of the best shortstops in the game. Every year, other shortstops getting mentioned and he doesnt, which is a shame because hes a talented kid.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.