Cubs

Remember the great players that didn't make it?

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Remember the great players that didn't make it?

The All-State rosters are riddled with football and basketball players who were projected for stardom in college and beyond but, for one reason or another, never fulfilled their potential or expectations.

In football, the list includes Fenwick's Jim DiLullo, Maine South's Tom Spotts, Evanston's Carlos Matthews, Lane Tech's Ken Ferguson, Tilden's Dempsey Norman, St. Rita's John Foley, Lane Tech's Alex Rodriguez, Naperville Central's Tim Lavery, New Trier's Mark Floersch, Proviso East's Philip Macklin, Naperville Central's Ryan Clifford, Maine South's Sean Price and Charlie Goro.

In basketball, remember Bloom's Raymond McCoy, Farragut's Ronnie Fields and LaKeith Henderson, King's Jamie Brandon, Imari Sawyer, Thomas Hamilton and Leon Smith, Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan, Collins' Antoine Davison, Westinghouse's DeAndre Thomas, Providence's Michael Thompson, Farragut's Curtis Ganes, Downers Grove South's Adam Schafer, Crystal Lake South's Bill Heppner, St. Martin de Porres' Tyrone Triplett, Crane's Lorenzo Thompson, Proviso West's Michael Ingram, Phillips' Bernard Jackson, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald? And how about Waukegan's Jereme Richmond?

Nearly all of them received Player of the Year recognition. Some were touted as the No. 1 player in the nation. All were accorded can't-miss accolades by college coaches, recruiting analysts and media observers.

But none of them made it.

Some, like Grunwald, DiLullo and Foley, were injured. Some, like Macklin, Nathan, Fields and Richmond, were strapped with personal or academic issues. Some, like McCoy, peaked in high school. Others weren't big enough or fast enough or simply not good enough to succeed at the next level.

But what they achieved in high school can never be taken away from them. They were dominant players, blue chippers, recruited by the nation's leading college programs, record-setters, leaders of state championship teams, first-round selections in the NBA draft.

Raymond McCoy was a two-time All-Stater at Bloom during a time when coach Wes Mason had built one of the most successful high school programs in Illinois. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 1978 and 1979 and esteemed Chicago sportswriter Bill Gleason said he was better than Isiah Thomas, then a standout at St. Joseph.

McCoy was a McDonald's All-American. Mason invited North Carolina coach Dean Smith to evaluate his star player. Smith wasn't impressed, saying that he could stay home in North Carolina and recruit players who were just as good or better.

To Mason, it was a crushing blow. In his view, McCoy was the best player he ever produced. Whether he ever told McCoy isn't certain. What is certain is McCoy went to San Francisco, transferred to DePaul after his freshman year and never was more than a role player for the Blue Demons. He averages two points per game in 1981-82.

Everybody makes mistakes. Farragut assistant coach Ron Eskridge, who also was involved in Fields' decline, insisted to one and all that Ganes was the No. 1 player in the state and one of the top 10 in the nation. Some people believed him.

Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, generally recognized as the leading talent evaluator in the nation since the late 1970s, once rated Heppner as a top 30 player nationally and a McDonald's All-America candidate. At DePaul, he sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury, then was ordered to end his career as a junior when doctors discovered a congenital neck injury.

Schafer, a 6-foot-5 forward who was recruited by Wisconsin, was ranked No. 20 nationally as a freshman by longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman and Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. Bob Gibbons jumped on board later. Chicago-based Roy and Harv Schmidt rated him in the top 10 as a sophomore. But Schafer never wanted to embrace the stardom.

"His parents pressured him beyond belief," the Schmidt brothers said. "The kid did not like the hoopla, all the attention. He did not want to make basketball his whole life. It got to him. He did not work hard and he didn't play hard."

Fields probably is the most unsettling and disappointing and tragic case of all. Arguably the most exciting and most athletic basketball player ever produced in Illinois, he was a teammate of Kevin Garnett in 1994-95 and Player of the Year in 1995-96. He was a three-time Parade All-America and a McDonald's All-America as a senior.

But he suffered a broken neck in a car accident on Feb. 26, 1996. He left high school as the third all-time leading scorer in Chicago Public League history with 2,619 points. He signed a letter-of-intent at DePaul but later was ruled academically ineligible. He declared for the 1998 NBA draft but wasn't chosen.

He played in the Philippines, Venezuela, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. In 2008, he returned to the United States to play in the CBA for the Minot (North Dakota) SkyRockets. For the last four years, he played with the Rockford (Illinois) Lightning. He is the only player in the history of the CBA to lead the league in scoring and steals in two consecutive seasons.

Hardly the recognition that was projected for him in high school.

Padres looking to add starting catcher and Willson Contreras could be a fit

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USA TODAY

Padres looking to add starting catcher and Willson Contreras could be a fit

If the Cubs decide to shop catcher Willson Contreras, a suitor for the two-time All-Star could emerge out west.

Sunday, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the Padres seek a starting catcher. Whether that leads them to Contreras is to be seen, but San Diego makes a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Cubs backstop.

Padres starter Austin Hedges (22 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019) is a superior defensive catcher to Contreras (-1), though the latter would be an offensive upgrade for San Diego. Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs last season, while Hedges hit .176/.252/.311 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs. Padres catchers combined to hit .212/.278/.349 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs.

The Padres hold one of the top farm systems in baseball, a group featuring five top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. The Cubs have two top 100 prospects — infielder Nico Hoerner (No. 47) and catcher Miguel Amaya (No. 90) — but they need to replenish their system after years of making win-now trades and struggling to develop homegrown talent the past few seasons.

At last month’s GM Meetings, Padres general manager A.J. Preller admitted the organization is open to trading its prospects to help build a championship-contending team. Preller defended that notion last week by sending infielder Xavier Edwards (MLB Pipeline’s No. 72 prospect) to the Rays to acquire outfielder Tommy Pham.

"You get tied to these players," Preller said in November. "And you should. You envision each of these guys playing with the Padres, and you have history with them. But you've got to understand at the end of the day, it's about building a championship-level team at the big-league level.

“If you do it the right way, you have multiples at different spots. Not everybody is going to be able to play for the Padres."

Lefty starter Mackenzie Gore is San Diego’s No. 1 prospect (No. 4 overall in MLB), but he’ll be off limits in any trade talks. Behind Gore, the other Padres prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list are:

-Outfielder Taylor Trammell (No. 28)
-Right-handed starter Luis Patino (No. 30)
-Shortstop CJ Abrams (No. 45)
-Catcher Luis Campusano (No. 86)

The Cubs are searching for a center field upgrade this offseason and have struggled to develop impact big-league starting pitching under Theo Epstein. After trading Edwards, the Padres may not want to deal more than one of the aforementioned four prospects in a single deal, but Trammell or Patino would be a major addition for the Cubs.

Trammell, 22, hit .234/.340/.349 in Double-A with the Reds and Padres in 2019. He projects as a corner outfielder but has the speed to play center. Patino posted a 2.57 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) in high-A and Double-A in 2019.

Adding any blue-chip prospects — regardless of position — should be the Cubs’ goal. Javier Báez is entrenched at shortstop, but if the Cubs were able to acquire Abrams, they can figure out how the 19-year-old fits defensively when the time comes. Abrams was the No. 6 overall draft pick last season and slashed .393/.436/.647 between rookie ball and low-A.

A Contreras trade could also include big league players. The Padres have 24-year-old catcher Francisco Mejía — .265/.316/.438, 8 homers, 22 RBIs, 0 DRS in 79 games last season — on their depth chart and he could be expendable in a Contreras trade.

The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to move Contreras. He’s under team control through 2022 and is only projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration in 2020. Plus. they don't get better in the immediate future by dealing him.

But if the Cubs look to move Contreras to replenish their farm system, the Padres make a ton of sense as trade partner.

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Dennis Gilbert defends decision to stand up for Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat

Dennis Gilbert defends decision to stand up for Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat

The Blackhawks racked up a season-high 27 penalty minutes in Sunday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, 17 of which came from Dennis Gilbert alone. And it all came on one sequence.

After watching Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers deliver a hit from behind on Alex DeBrincat that went unpenalized, Gilbert skated half the length of the ice to confront Demers and initiated a fight with the 11-year NHL veteran. The scrap didn't last long, but Gilbert was assessed a two-minute penalty for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.

DeBrincat said after the game he appreciated Gilbert sticking up for him and so did the Blackhawks bench, most of whom gave Gilbert fist bumps and head taps as he was escorted out. But it came at a time when the Blackhawks were leading 3-2 near the midway mark of the second period and, unfortunately for Gilbert and the team, the Coyotes capitalized on the power play to even things up at 3-3 and it turned out to be the last goal scored in regulation.

"I thought it was a dirty hit," Gilbert said. "His numbers were showing and he decided to follow through and make the hit still. So it's tough, having to get an extra penalty for it. It's no fun and watching them score on the power play, they tie the game up and we end up not getting the win, which is unfortunate. But if you let that stuff happen to players on your team, especially your best players, it's going to keep happening.

"I'm not a fighter by any means; it kind of happens that coincidentally it's two games in a row. But I'm going to stand up for myself and for my teammates. ... I'm not going to sit back and let somebody get taken advantage of, whether it's on the ice or walking down the streets in Chicago."

A lot has been made about whether it was the wrong place and wrong time for Gilbert to stand up for his teammate. But the Blackhawks — both players and coaches — acknowledged it's a penalty they don't mind trying to kill off because the intention sent a powerful message throughout the locker room.

The Blackhawks were eight seconds away from killing off the penalty and this wouldn't be a discussion if they did. Still, Gilbert said he would do it again if he had to because he believes it's the right thing to do.

"I think it's kind of an instincutal thing," Gilbert said. "As a defenseman on a defenseman, it can be hard to orchestrate that. I don't like staged fights. It was an in-the-moment thing. I saw what I thought was a dirty hit and it wasn't penalized, so you've got to address it. Like I said, it's tough being shorthanded, but I think that it's important, especially on your better players, to make sure that guys know if you're going to hit them or take a shot at them, you're going to have to pay a price."

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