Cubs

White Sox Minor League update: Mitchell slumping

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White Sox Minor League update: Mitchell slumping

AAA Charlotte Knights

The Knights pitching staff has had its struggles this season, but Dylan Axelrod has been a bright spot for the club. He is 2-1 in five starts and has only surrendered 23 hits in 31 innings of work. Axelrod has only allowed three earned runs all season and holds an impressive 0.87 ERA. In his one start last week, Dylan went six innings, struck out nine and allowed one unearned run on a fielding error. Axelrods name may sound more familiar than other prospects because he has seen glimpses of action for the White Sox this season. He appeared in three games with one start and holds a 3.52 ERA in the big leagues.

Charlotte catcher Josh Phegley continues to look for answers in the second week of May. After coming off a productive April, Phegley has had a great deal of trouble finding his swing this month. Last week, he went just 3-for-24 (.125), and in four of the six games, he was hitless. Phegleys recent slump has caused his once jaw-dropping average to flutter just above .300 (.303). It is still early in the season, but Phegley needs to fix his swing not only to help his shrinking average but also for a Charlotte team searching high and low for run support.

AA Birmingham Barons

Birmingham speedster Jared Mitchell appeared to have pumped the breaks last week and his production followed. Mitchell went 4-for-24 (.166) with only one extra base hit, and two RBI. He fanned 11 times with five multiple strikeout games. Of the six times he reached base safely last week, he swiped three bags. Mitchell could be a true threat on the base paths, his only issue has been getting there, and his .233 OBP for the week tells us exactly that.

Simon Castro was deemed to have location issues coming into the season, but it appears that in his last two performances, he has been completely in control. Castro toed the rubber for one start last week and put on quite the show. He tossed seven innings, allowed one unearned run, and struck out five. Even more impressively, Castro only allowed three hits in his seven innings of work. With a methodical approach to his last two starts, Castro has silenced many analysts who were critical of his ability to locate his pitches.

Class A Winston-Salem Dash

The Dash improved to 22-15 on Wednesday and their recent success can be largely attributed to left fielder Brady Shoemaker. In the five games he played last week, Brady went 10-for-18 (.555) with three RBIs and an OBP of .600. His recent tear catapulted his average to .356 on the season, the highest on the team and good enough for fourth in the league. Not only has Shoemaker been hot, he has delivered in the clutch, hitting .351 with runners in scoring position.

Spencer Arroyo had one start this week in Winston-Salem. He threw five and a third innings allowing one run on four hits with six Ks. Arroyo started the season slowly, allowing 13 combined runs in his first two starts but his performances have become increasingly more efficient and his ERA (5.97) is slowly beginning to level out. In his eight starts, Arroyo leads the club in strikeouts (35), and is second in innings pitched (37.2).

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

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USA TODAY

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

There’s no one reason that you could point to that explains why the Cubs have gone 27-12 since their horrid first road trip. You could point to Javy Baéz’s continuous star turn, or the rotation exceeding even the loftiest expectations so far. You could point to Kris Bryant’s healthy shoulder, or Brandon Kintzler’s sinker -- like plenty of people have -- and you’d be right. What’s gone under-discussed, at least in the eyes of some, is just how good the Cubs’ outfield defense has been.

“Who doesn’t love defense?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week. “This group here, when everyone’s on the field and the really good defenders are out there, it’s as tight as I’ve had. The difference being I think is that the outfield defense has gotten better in the last couple years here.”

The numbers back it up. MLB keeps a statistic called Outs Above Average (OAA) that tries to convey just how good an outfielder is vs. replacement level. For the Cubs, Albert Almora is doing much of the heavy lifting, as the center fielder is worth 4 OOA -- good for 4th best in baseball -- on his own. Jason Heyward is holding is own with 2 OOA so far, and Kyle Schwarber continues to struggle (-2 OOA). As a team, here’s how many Outs Above Average the Cubs have been worth since they started keeping track in 2016:

2016: 22 (2nd)
2017: - 7 (20th)
2018: 0 (14th)
2019, so far: 4 (6th)

“I think we’ve got a lot of great athletes on our team,” Almora said. “We’re playmakers and I think we have a great coaching staff that puts us in the right spots.”

Another useful metric that Statcast keeps track of is called Directional OOA. Basically, MLB designates six directions (front right/middle/left and back right/middle/left) and gauges which direction certain teams and fielders are best at running. Almora, at least this year, has been strongest running in and left:

That was on display yet again on Friday, when Almora broke in and left to rob Derek Dietrich in the second inning:

When asked, Almora admitted that he was surprised to learn that, instead thinking that he was better in and to the right. He’s not wrong, either: in each of the previous three seasons, Almora’s finished with the most OOA coming in and to the right.

“I think most [routes] are pretty instinctual to me,” he said. “I kind of sell out when it’s a little runner. Sometimes I dive and don’t get to it because in my mind I’m programmed to where, if it’s hit to me, I’ve got to catch it.”

Heyward, on the other hand, has been stronger to his right his year:

“I just think it’s about your position” Heyward added. “You can say someone is really good at one thing, but if they don’t get as many plays to this way, or that way, you don’t really know.

One interesting wrinkle about the Cubs’ outfield is that neither Schwarber, Almora or Heyward have been worth an Out Above Average going straight backwards, and generally haven’t been great going backwards in any direction. One explanation? Between an unforgiving brick wall and the outward-jetting net that sits on top of it, robbing homers basically isn’t possible at Wrigley. Knowing that drastically changes the read on fly balls.

“You know you’re not going to go back as hard,” Heyward said. “If someone hits the ball over your head, most likely it’s going to be a double if it’s off the wall. There’s definitely differences between here and and the next place.”

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski is joined by ESPN college basketball analyst Jordan Cornette to discuss the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft and what options the Bulls will have when they go on the clock at No. 7.

0:45        What’s coming up for Jordan
2:20        Impact of Bulls dropping to seven in the draft
3:45        On Cam Reddish and his pro potential, should Bulls take him?
5:50        Should Bulls take a risk at 7 and go with highest potential? Jarrett Culver discussion
7:55        On Kevin Porter Jr and Nassir Little, too risky to take at 7? Jordan explains why Luguentz Dort is his sleeper
10:35     On mid first round and potential for risk among teams
13:20     Bulls 2nd round pick options, why PG probably won’t be an option at 7
15:00     Jordan’s pick for the Bulls at 7
16:50     On free agency, Bulls need at PG
19:08     Jordan on a potential Derrick Rose return
21:14     Do either the Bucks or Raptors have a chance vs Golden State?