White Sox

Thibodeau sees growth in Robinson

957475.png

Thibodeau sees growth in Robinson

CLEVELANDFrom their shared tenure in Boston together, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau knew what he was getting when Nate Robinson signed up to play in Chicago this season. At his best, the diminutive bundle of energy is an instant-offense scorer, capable of making game-changing plays, setting up his teammates, creating off the dribble and pushing the tempo.

Bulls fans have already seen that side of Robinson, as hes already had several stellar stretches this season. But when Robinson is off or pushes his luck when hes got it going, thats when the turnovers, questionable shot selection and other lapses come out, showing why, despite his talent, hes bounced around the league so much.

For example, in Tuesday nights home loss to the rival Pacers, Robinson was the one player who could truly make things happen and was a big reason the Bulls seized control of the game in the fourth quarter. However, when bad judgment reared its ugly head, he also made some crucial errors that played a part in the eventual defeat.

I dont think its ever on one particular player. We win together, we lose together. We were capable of finishing that game a lot better than we did. In every game, theres going to be good situations and bad, and I think the important thing for us to become a good team, we have to eliminate all the ways in which we beat ourselves first and thats getting our turnovers down. That wasnt any one particular guy19 turnovers, theres a lot of people involved in thatand I think we have to understand, in the fourth quarter, its different, Thibodeau explained, a day after having time to reflect on the game, as well as watch the film. We have some guys who are playing in the fourth quarter who havent played in the fourth quarter, so I think its important to understand that everyone has to do their job. The intensitys different. You have to be able to sustain your spacing through a second and third option. You have to be fundamental with the ball. You have to pivot well, make the appropriate pass at the appropriate time. Youve got to pass with two hands, youve got to catch with two hands, youve got to rebound with two hands. I thought those were the things that got us.

Compared to when he played for the Celtics, Robinson is different. Hes got more experience now and he wasnt playing this type of role in Boston, so this is a different role. I think hes still growing, the coach continued. Hes had some really good games for us, some games that are sort of in the middle. But I want him to be consistent and I want him to try to concentrate on his improvement, and run our team well.

When asked about his play, Robinson was honest. The point guard understands what kind of player he is and is continuously working to improve his deficiencies, but also knows that his unique abilityotherworldly athleticism, unbelievable heart and innate scoring abilityis a dimension that few players bring to the table.

I play hard, but sometimes it just doesnt happen. Things dont go in your favor and Ive got to take care of the ball. Thats something Ive got to do better from here on out, Robinson said. I dont think I went for the home-run play. A couple plays, the ball just got out of my hands. Just try to make the right play, honestly. Sometimes youve got to take the good with the bad. That just builds character for me. Ive got to criticize myself before you guys can do it. That makes my job easier.

I think I get better and better every year. Myself, Im definitely happy with the positions Ive been in, different teams, different situations. I love the game for what it is. I just go hard. Thats the only way I know how to play and over the years, Im getting better and better, so Im happy with it, he added. His game is a work in progress. Thats good because to me, theres room for improvement. I love a challenge and Coach tells me every night to go out and put guys in positions where they can be successful and help the team, and I took the challenge in doing that.

Continue playing. Just have fun, man. Just go out there and play basketball. Thats what weve been doing all our lives. Thats what we know how to do. Just keep that, have fun, man. Everything else will take care of itself.

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

There were plenty of people who thought Michael Kopech was the White Sox best pitcher when the team left Glendale, Arizona, to start the 2018 season.

Whether or not the team shared that opinion, Kopech spent the next four and a half months as a minor leaguer.

The prevailing preseason thought was that it wouldn’t take the flame-throwing Kopech, who struck out 172 minor league hitters in 2017, long to breeze through Triple-A and arrive on the South Side. But it did.

A dominant beginning to the season was followed by a bumpy stretch in which his ERA and walk total consistently grew. But the last seven starts were terrific, and so Kopech’s call to the majors has finally come. He’ll make his big league debut Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins.

It’s news that will please many White Sox fans because it’s something they’ve been waiting all season to see happen. Ever since Sox Fest back in the winter, the No. 1 question has been: When will Kopech and Eloy Jimenez reach the bigs? Jimenez, the team’s top-ranked prospect, is still a minor leaguer for now, but Kopech is about to hit the South Side with a heck of a lot of fanfare. It’s a pretty tangible example of this rebuilding effort moving in the right direction.

The recent conversation among fans and media members, though, has centered around service time and whether the White Sox handling of Kopech and Jimenez would mirror how the Cubs handled Kris Bryant back in 2015, keeping a star prospect from the majors until a couple weeks into the following season to start the clock a year later and essentially add a year of team control to the end of his contract. A lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans have whole-heartedly bought in to such a strategy.

But general manager Rick Hahn has insisted all along that the only determination of when these guys would come up was that they hit all the developmental milestones the team wanted them to hit in the minor leagues. For what it’s worth, Hahn answered a question about service time earlier this summer, saying that it had nothing to do with keeping Kopech at Triple-A. That question was specifically in reference to when Kopech could become arbitration eligible, not a free agent even further down the road. But the response is an interesting one as a similar conversation keeps happening surrounding this team and these specific decisions.

“It was all baseball. It’s never been the arbitration three years from now. It’s been about baseball,” he said back in mid June. “Again, not getting too far down into Michael’s checklist of what we want to see him accomplish, but he hasn’t checked them all off yet. He’s had some real good starts. He’s getting closer, and it’s not going to surprise me seeing him here at some point in the not too distant future, but he’s not there yet.”

Several tremendous outings later, and Kopech is there now. The numbers have been unreal in his last seven starts: a 1.84 ERA, 59 strikeouts and only four walks in 44 innings.

Hahn also talked about how the team’s handling of pitching prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito a season ago could be a kind of template for how it would handle Kopech this season. Both those guys were called up in August, just like Kopech will be in a couple days.

Just like Hahn’s season-long declaration that the fortunes of the major league team and of the players on the major league team had no bearing on when top prospects would be promoted, at the very least in Kopech’s case, the same seems to have been true about the issue of service time. Some might lament the fact that the White Sox didn’t wait on Kopech, and it’s not a point without merit, as a large number of injuries to top prospects this season robbed them of developmental time and perhaps shifted the timeline of the entire rebuild. Maybe. In the event that is a concern shared by the White Sox, the extra year might have made a difference down the road.

But as White Sox fans have seen first hand this season, there is development that needs to happen at the major league level, too. Giolito and Lopez gained valuable experience pitching at the end of last season. Those two, plus Yoan Moncada and other young players, have gone through growing pains throughout this year’s campaign. Kopech will face the challenges of the big leagues, as well, and the sooner he does, the sooner he can learn how to overcome them.

Hahn has said all along that the organization’s focus remains on the long term, and though there might be arguments out there that not waiting could potentially shorten the team’s window of contention many years down the line, Kopech’s promotion does an awful lot to open it in the first place.

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

ol.jpg
USA TODAY

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

As the Bears leave Denver and prepare for Kansas City, sorting through a couple of conundrums on the interior of their offensive line—James Daniels or Cody Whitehair at center? Best five?—a budding conclusion is this:
 
Mixed preseason numbers notwithstanding, the Bears stand on the brink of a potentially elite offensive line, in the hands of one of the most highly regarded coaches in the game.
 
It has not performed to “elite” yet, although not with traces of upside. A hyper-conservative run game that averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2017, with defenses facing neither a pass offense nor subterfuge, is plodding to 3.8 ypc through three preseason games.
 
Mitch Trubisky was sacked once every 11.6 pass plays as a rookie; this preseason, he and Chase Daniel have fared a bit better, sacked once every 15.8 pass plays (No. 2 Daniel is included because his protection includes offensive linemen factoring into current deliberations). Against the Denver Broncos, albeit without rush leaders Bradley Chubb and Von Miller playing the entire game, Bears quarterbacks were sacked just twice in 44 pass plays, with a total of five hits. 
 
But consider a bigger picture, beyond one game or even one season:
 
Right guard Kyle Long turns 30 in December and the roster has zero offensive linemen currently older than 29 years of age. While the spotlight was on adding weapons around quarterback Mitch Trubisky, GM Ryan Pace was also continuing a methodology that included making sure the ONLY weapons around Trubisky are ones wearing the same uniform.
 
“It’s up to us to find the guys who want to work hard and have the right attitude about getting better,” said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. “If you have that, we’ll overcome things like never being in a [three-point] stance or how to get leverage in the running game. We have guys who are tough enough to do it.”
 
And ones who will be around for awhile.
 
Four of the projected starting five are under some significant degree of contract control: Daniels, Long and left tackle Charles Leno are signed through 2021, Whitehair through 2019. Right tackle Bobby Massie becomes a free agent after this season but Rashaad Coward, a promising prospect at either guard or tackle after converting from defense this spring, does not hit unrestricted free agency until 2021, with the Bears holding future tender-offer options on the 23-year-old former nose tackle.
 
“[Defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio pointed out when I first got here that we’ve got a young guy [Coward] who really has some good traits about him as a football player,” Hiestand said. “He’s tough. He works his tail off. He’s learning on the job really well right now. Very positive growth.”
 
The overall situation is the result of some organizational commitment – if Daniels starts and Whitehair moves to center, the Bears will have a No. 1 (Long) and two No. 2’s as the three individuals closer to the football than anyone not named Trubisky.
 
And the result of luck – Leno was the 246th player taken in the 2014 draft, meaning that GM Phil Emery phoned in picks of Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Ka’Deem Carey and David Fales, plus a punter (Pat O’Donnell) before opting for Leno in the seventh round.
 
Maintaining perspective
 

A titanic offensive line is no solution by itself (besides the obvious fact that things dubbed as “titanic” can, you know, sink).
 
The Dallas Cowboys fielded an offensive line in 2015 that included No. 1’s Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, plus rookie La’El Collins, with a top-10 grade but undrafted over character concerns. That Cowboys team went 4-12.
 
With Frederick, Martin and Smith still in place (Collins was injured), the 2016 Cowboys 180’ed to 13-3 after they got the quarterback (Dak Prescott) and running back (Ezekiel Elliott) things addressed. In 2017, the line even added another No. 1 pick (Jonathan Cooper) but the Cowboys dipped to 9-7 after Elliott was suspended for six games and averaged a full yard per carry less than the year before, and Prescott more than tripled his interceptions (to 13 from 4).
 
Even elite protectors have their limits if the protectees don’t do enough with the protection.
 
Health is a critical, annual issue, but where injuries have thrown several recent offensive lines into chaos. The Bears started four different right guards in 2017; Whitehair started at a different spot each of the final three games.
 
“I think our biggest thing,” said Whitehair, “is playing together under one set of eyes, seeing the field together and playing together.”