Bulls

What does Soler signing do to Cubs' system?

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What does Soler signing do to Cubs' system?

Now that the Cubs have signed Jorge Soler, things are about to change for the franchise, right?

Well, not so fast, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Just ask Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, who tweeted Monday: "Cubs system is getting better. Throw in potential returns for Dempster, Garza and a big pick in 2013 and it could be a HUGE step forward."

Talk about unbridled optimism for Cubs fans, eh? The big-league club may be on pace to lose a franchise record of games, but the future gets brighter seemingly every day.

Last week, the Cubs selected high school outfielder Albert Almora with the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft, followed by a slew of pitchers.

In January, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded Andrew Cashner for slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who has done nothing but mash in Triple-A since.

And then of course there was 2011 first-round draft pick Javier Baez, a pure hitter out of high school.

So where does Soler fit into all this?

"You could make a very good case that he's No. 1," Jim Callis of Baseball America said on WGN Radio Monday night. "You're talking about a 20-year old kid. To me, it'd be him and Baez. I like Almora a lot. Soler and Baez have a little bit more offensive upside than Almora. I think Almora is a better all-around player, but Soler and Baez are more explosive.

"You're talking about two guys who can do a ton of damage in the middle of the lineup. Soler's got great bat speed. You're looking at at least plus power and a solid runner. He just really fits that right-field profile. I would probably go Soler. I think Baez is going to wind up moving to third. It's Soler-Baez or Baez-Soler for me."

Baez, 19, was recently promoted to Low-A Peoria and carries a .277.370.468 line with five steals in 13 games.

With Almora, Rizzo, Baez and Soler in tow, joining Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson and Junior Lake, diehard Cubs fans like David Kaplan have something to get excited about.

On CTL Monday, Kap put together a graphic that showed what the Cubs' lineup could look like on Opening Day in 2015:

1. Brett Jackson LF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Albert Almora CF
4. Anthony Rizzo 1B
5. Jorge Soler RF
6. Javier Baez 3B
7. Junior Lake 2B
8. Steve Clevenger C
9. Jeff Samardzija P

"I can very much see that scenario," Callis said of Kap's projected 2015 lineup. "I think that's realistic. That's what the Cubs are building toward. The good news, too, is when I look long-term at this division, there's not a team that stands out.

"You look at the Rangers, where they have a great major-league team and a great farm system. Or the AL East where you have all these financial power houses and you have the Rays and you have the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays might have the best farm system in the game if the Rangers don't.

"There's nobody in the NL Central where I look at and say 'wow, that team's going to be tough to beat in three years.' Cubs fans are going to have to take their lumps for the next couple of years, but when you look long-term in that division, there's no one positioned to just ride roughshod over everybody else for the next five or 10 years."

So the offense looks pretty dang good. Again, if everybody fulfills their potential and sticks with the team.

But what about the pitching? Apart from Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza (who may very well wind up involved in a trade), the Cubs aren't sure what they have in the way of pitching prospects. But they set out to try to correct that problem in last week's draft.

"Almora got the bulk of the attention in this year's draft as the sixth overall pick, but the Cubs came back and got pitchers with the next six or seven picks," Callis said. "Supplemental pick Pierce Johnson is a guy who probably could have gone in the first round if he hadn't had a little forearm stiffness that cost him a couple weeks. That's a first-round talent.

"Supplemental pick Paul Blackburn is a good high school pitcher from California who's polished. Second-round pick Duane Underwood has a tremendous fastball. They have some guys there. The question is going to be what else the system can produce. Trey McNutt is a good arm, but probably more of a reliever than a starter in the long term. Dillon Maples -- we really haven't seen a whole lot of since he got 2.5 million. That's gonna be the focus now is finding some pitching to go with all this offensive talent."

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

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USA TODAY

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

The next time the Bulls take the floor – Wednesday night in Charlotte – they’ll be playing for keeps, looking to make good on their verbalized goal of making the postseason for the first time in three seasons. They’re lofty goals for a team that won just 22 games a season ago, but they put the finishing touches on a promising preseason in their 111-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that has them feeling confident in what’s ahead.

True, it came against a Hawks team playing a rare back-to-back (with both games on the road) and one that was resting John Collins, but the Bulls once again shared the ball, played with urgency and continued their 2019 style in a game they led the final 38 minutes.

Coach Jim Boylen treated the game as a dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Hornets in six days, solidifying his 10-man rotation and getting significant contributions from both units. With star power in Zach LaVine and (hopefully) Lauri Markkanen, a supporting cast that’s buying in and a few promising youngsters, the next stage of the Bulls rebuild is shaping up nicely.

“I thought each guy had moments,” Boylen said after the game. “I thought we did a good job of getting the ball to the open people or the hot man…That’s what good teams do. They find the guy that’s got it rolling. They keep it rolling as long as they can. And then we pick each other up when maybe a group or section of the game where we’re struggling. I’m happy for that.”

It once again began with Zach LaVine, who finished a terrific preseason with 23 points on 11 shots in just 25 minutes. He was a model of efficiency – he didn’t attempt a midrange shot – and finished his four-game preseason stretch with 93 points in 96 minutes, shooting 32 of 54 (59.2%) and making 14 of 25 3-point attempts (56.0%). Every completed rebuild needs a player like how LaVine is playing right now. It should be an All-Star season for the 25-year-old.

Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter were quiet in the preseason but there’s not much to read in to about their performances. Wendell Carter Jr. shook off a couple injury scares and put together his best performance of his limited preseason, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds and drawing some praise from Boylen for his off-ball intangibles. He should be full-go in five days when the Bulls begin playing for keeps.

Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky did exactly what they’ve done their entire careers: They were quiet but effective, with the latter forming a solid tandem with any frontcourt player he appeared with, and the latter grabbing the starting point-guard reins.

The second unit remains a question mark, but it will enter the regular season with some serious momentum. Despite being officially demoted to the second unit just days earlier, Kris Dunn again drew praise from Boylen for his effort and energy that sparked the Bulls in the second quarter.

“I thought Kris Dunn’s energy off the bench changed the game,” Boylen said. “He got us going. His effort, his energy, his focus was great. Some nights we’re gonna be in mud, we’re gonna be a little sluggish. And he’s been practicing really hard and I was really proud of what he did in that moment to kind of get us going. I’m happy for him.”

Dunn may be able to stay on the floor thanks to the scoring prowess that rookie Coby White is showing. The seventh overall pick scored a game-high 29 points and made 6 of 8 3-pointers. That 3-for-30 effort in the Las Vegas Summer League feels like forever ago, and for a bench that lacks much scoring, White’s ability to do just that becomes even more significant. His last three preseason games: 23.6 points in 25.3 minutes. He had just one assist, but the Bulls will take that scoring and shooting right now.

Boylen called his stretch of triples in the third quarter “as good as we’ve seen in this building in a while.”

Luke Kornet has won the backup job over Daniel Gafford, while Ryan Arcidiacono (and presumably Chandler Hutchison when he returns from a hamstring injury) is ahead of Denzel Valentine, who Boylen said needs to “stay ready” despite not being in the 10-man rotation. The bench is the Bulls’ weakest spot, but even Boylen admitted they’re starting to get a little rhythm together.

The caveat, of course, is that it was just preseason. Everything changes when the games start counting. On the one hand, the Bulls’ first five opponents include one projected playoff team (Toronto), On the other hand, four of those first five games are on the road. What worked in preseason isn’t guaranteed to work in the regular season. But for what the Bulls could have proved in the preseason – that they’re forming a team with specific roles and players buying into them – they did to a T, and it should make for a promising Year 3 of a rebuild.

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Bulls' Coby White buries poor summer league with stellar preseason

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USA Today

Bulls' Coby White buries poor summer league with stellar preseason

Given that he scored 23 points in just shy of 25 minutes, it makes sense that Zach LaVine most efficiently summarized Coby White as the Bulls’ preseason concluded with Thursday’s victory over the Hawks.

“He’s going to be special,” LaVine said. “He knows it. We know it.”

It certainly looked that way as White overwhelmed the Hawks with 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including six 3-pointers. It should be noted the Hawks were finishing three games in four nights and didn’t play their regulars heavy minutes.

But the way White approaches each game, it may not matter.

“I think he’s had one of the best rookie camps I’ve seen,” LaVine said. “We know he can shoot and score but the way he has handled himself, he has been aggressive and playing his game. He can shoot, space the floor and score. It’s going to help us so much.

“You can put him in anywhere. He’s going to get the job done. He’s fearless, not scared of anything, not scared of the moment. I talk to him all the time and say, ‘Keep going.’”

Given his work ethic, it sounds like White will. His late-night shooting sessions at the Advocate Center with his older brother, Will, who played Division II college hoops, already have drawn notice throughout the organization.

“What he does is he works,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He hasn’t missed any practice time. He’s in the facility at night. When I’m in there at 8 p.m., he’s in there shooting with his brother, Will, after practice. He puts the extra time in. He cares.”

This approach is why White so easily buried his nightmarish 3-for-30 3-point shooting from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Granted, this is still preseason. But by averaging 19.2 points on 45.5 percent shooting, including 43.2 percent 3-point shooting, White looks ready to roll come regular-season time.

“I knew he was going to come into this league and do exactly what he’s doing now,” Wendell Carter Jr. said.

Keep in mind that it’s not easy for a Duke product to compliment a North Carolina one.

White is taking it all in stride.

“It’s satisfying, but I still can’t lose that hunger to get better and continue to grind,” he said. “It’s only going to get harder.

“I knew it was a process. I just got drafted. I’m playing against NBA players. Everything’s not going to be perfect. You’re going to face a lot of adversity your rookie year. It started for me at summer league. As long as I just keep being me, which is staying in the gym and getting reps and control what I can control, everything will work itself out."