White Sox

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."

Jose Abreu didn't come to White Sox looking for leadership role, but he's the face of the franchise on the All-Star stage

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu didn't come to White Sox looking for leadership role, but he's the face of the franchise on the All-Star stage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jose Abreu didn’t come to the White Sox to be a leader. But that’s what he is as he took his spot among the best in baseball at Tuesday night’s All-Star Game.

Abreu is the face of the South Side baseball club and he’s had a stellar-enough first four and a half seasons in Major League Baseball to earn the distinction of a starter in the Midsummer Classic. But Abreu, unsurprisingly, doesn’t look at himself as one of the best in the game. He looks as himself as a hard-worker.

“I don’t believe that I’m the best,” Abreu said through a team translator on Monday. “I’m just a person who likes to work hard every day and try to do my best.”

That humility is nothing new to folks who follow the White Sox on a regular basis. And neither is talk of Abreu’s work ethic, the admiration of everyone involved with the team and a constant talking point from Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all Abreu’s teammates.

Abreu has become as important for his off-the-field roles as he has for his on-the-field production for this rebuilding White Sox team. He’s been described as a role model for all the young players in the organization, whether they’re on the big league roster right now or coming up through the system.

“None of them have told me that yet,” Abreu joked. “But I know that. It’s definitely a compliment, and I take it as something that makes you feel good, something that makes you keep moving forward and to keep trying to help the guys to improve and get better as a team. You feel like that is a big honor, that people think that way of you.”

As good as he feels to be held in such esteem, Abreu didn’t set out to be one of this team’s leaders when he came to the United States. And to be honest, he might not be in his current position if it weren’t for the team’s rebuilding effort. Abreu is one of the few veterans on this team.

“That was something that happened. I didn’t look for it,” Abreu said. “I was always trying to help people and trying to give advice to help people to improve. But I never tried to be a leader. If people say that because of what I do, that’s good, but that’s not something that I’m trying to force or something that I say, ‘I want to be a leader.’ No, that’s not who I am. I am just the kind of person who likes to help people, who likes to give advice.”

Abreu is seemingly the definition of what the White Sox want their next winning roster to be full of. And whether it’s the special relationship he has with fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada or the role-model status he holds in the eyes of his other teammates, both current and future, he’s helping the White Sox develop those kinds of players.

Oh, and he’s generally — though this season has seen an extended slump and atypical numbers — one of the most consistently productive hitters in the game.

Who wouldn’t want all that as the face of the franchise?

“It’s all a blessing. I can’t ask for anything else,” Abreu said. “I’m a true believer that if you work hard, good things are going to happen. That’s why I work hard every day, I try to do my best, I try to improve every day and just to be a better person. Not just a better player, but a better person.”

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

Bulls' public address announcer Tommy Edwards is already getting his familiar introduction ready for next season. "Froooooom CHICAGO, a 6'8" forward, Jabari Parker!

Not sure if Parker has the resume to be introduced last for Bulls' home games this season, but there will be plenty of fanfare regardless of where he falls among the starting five. After all, Parker was a part of four straight state championship teams at Chicago's Simeon H.S., earning national prep player of the year honors along the way. And, he's been recognized for his tireless charitable work, including an essay in the Player's Tribune proclaiming his desire to be a factor in creating a safer environment in his hometown. 

Parker is articulate and driven to succeed, which will make him a go-to guy for members of the Chicago media during the upcoming season. Question is, can he succeed where so many other Chicago prep stars have failed? You know the names. Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Dwyane Wade, Hersey Hawkins, Dave Corzine, Cazzie Russell and even our own Kendall Gill. All Chicago area high school stars looking to replicate that greatness playing for the Bulls. But none of them were part of an NBA championship team in their hometown.

So, what will expectations be like for the 23 year old Parker? The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has already come back from two separate ACL tears in his left knee, which effectively removed him from the list of young players projected as future All-Stars. Still, Parker was averaging over 20 points a game for the Bucks before his second ACL injury in February of 2017, and he came back this past season with his trademark explosiveness at the rim still very much intact.

It's obvious playing for his hometown Bulls has always been a goal for Parker, but will the fit on the court be as good as his fit in the Chicago community?

Parker, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are all at their best with the basketball in their hands, which means the coaching staff will have to be creative in finding ways to feature all three of those players, plus the frontcourt duo of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. 

The best solution will be to push the pace to get early shot clock scoring opportunities. Parker is at his best running the floor for fastbreak lay-ups and dunks, and you can the bet the Bulls’ coaches are excited to see Dunn pushing the ball upcourt with Parker, LaVine and Markkanen running the wings. Fred Hoiberg wants to see his players get into a flow offense coming out of the initial attack in transition and when Carter Jr. is on the floor, the Bulls will have five athletic players, 24 years old or younger to get into secondary actions. 

Defense will be the biggest issue in the upcoming season. Parker and LaVine ranked near the bottom of the league among wing defenders in the analytics breakdowns from last season, and their ability to stay in front of talented shooting guards and small forwards will be a nightly key to the Bulls' success. Carter Jr. showed tremendous potential as a shot-blocker during Summer League games, but he can't be expected to block everything if opposing wings are getting straight line drives to the rim. 

So, where does this new-look Bulls team figure in the East? It's hard to project a win total for a team as young as the Bulls, but it's clear they have enough talent on the roster to see a double-digit increase over last season's 27 victories. 41 wins could be good enough to grab the last playoff spot in the East, so if everything comes together for the Bulls next season, they should be playing meaningful games in March and early April. 

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
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Did you see LeBron James show up at the Vegas Summer League wearing a $500 pair of Lakers' customized shorts? I guess James wanted to make sure everyone knew he had switched teams this summer, and those shorts are now the hottest items in L.A. sports merchandise shops. 

As for the basketball fit, James has already met with Lakers' coach Luke Walton and seems satisfied with the jumbled roster he'll be leading in the upcoming season. James isn't expected to speak publicly on his latest move until the end of the month, but apparently he's been assured the Lakers will be bringing in another superstar at some point, either in the trade market or 2019 free agency. 

Magic Johnson must be confident he can sign Kawhi Leonard next summer, but after watching Paul George state his desire to join the Lakers, then change his mind and re-sign in Oklahoma City, Lakers' fans will be understandably cautious about projecting him as LeBron's running mate for the 2019-20 season. 
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Maybe that other All-Star caliber player is already on the Lakers' roster. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are versatile forwards who have the potential to become 20 points per game scorers in the league, while Lonzo Ball could be an elite facilitator at the point guard position. And, the Lakers' other 1st round pick from the 2017 draft, Josh Hart, was just voted Summer League MVP, an honor that went to Ball a year ago. 

Hart is a 6'5" shooting guard who averaged 7.9 points as a rookie, connecting on 47% of his shots from the field and 40% from the 3 point line. He poured in 37 points Monday night to lead the Lakers to an overtime win over Cleveland in the Summer League semi-finals. The former Villanova star will compete with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson for minutes at the shooting guard position opposite the point guard tandem of Ball and Rajon Rondo.

It's an odd roster put together by Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, but adding James to the mix should almost guarantee 50 wins and a top five seed in the West. 
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Here's a look at the All-NBA Summer League team voted on by media members in Las Vegas.

Wendell Carter Jr.  (BULLS)
Josh Hart                 (Lakers)
Collin Sexton           (Cavs)
Kevin Knox              (Knicks)
Christian Wood       (Bucks)

Top five draft picks Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young were voted to the 2nd team. 

We've already told you about Carter Jr. and Hart, but Sexton impressed all the NBA people on hand in Vegas with his speed in the open court and his ability to get to the rim. There was some discussion in the Bulls' draft room about possibly taking Sexton with the No. 7 overall pick, and he was quickly snapped up by the Cavs after Carter Jr. went to the Bulls.

In the post-Lebron, post-Kyrie era in Cleveland, finding a dynamic point guard to run the show was absolutely crucial for GM Koby Altman and it looks like the Cavs have their man in the ultra-competitive Sexton, who famously almost beat the University of Minnesota by himself when his Alabama team was forced to play three-against-five during a Thanksgiving tournament game last season. 

Cleveland will be looking to shed some of the bad contracts on the roster like Tristan Thompson, George Hill and J.R. Smith, and veterans Kevin Love and Kyle Korver could be on the move as well. Sexton is a quality piece to start the rebuild, but I don't think the Cavs should count on winning the No. 1 overall pick three times in four years like they did the last time LeBron left.
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Finally, don't put too much stock into the Sporting News report listing the Bulls as one of the teams showing interest in free agent center Jahlil Okafor. The former Whitney Young H.S. star worked out for four teams in Las Vegas last week, but the Bulls were not in attendance. Okafor will probably have to sign for the NBA minimum this season to re-establish some value around the league.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft is in great shape and is trying to prove he's more than just a low-post scorer. Okafor played sparingly in Brooklyn after he was acquired in a mid-season trade with Philadelphia. He's averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds over his three-year NBA career. 

The Bulls are already overloaded at the center position with Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and Omer Asik.