Garrett: Best in Class of 2014?

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Garrett: Best in Class of 2014?

August 24. That date is indelibly etched in Clifton Garrett's mind. No, it isn't his birthday. Or his girlfriend's. Or the anniversary of the day that Ohio State assistant coach Mike Vrabel called to offer a scholarship.

"It's the day we play Bolingbrook, our season opener," Garrett said. "I'm excited about that game. I want to play against (Illinois-bound quarterback) Aaron Bailey. I'm looking forward to the challenge. It will show how I match up against a big-time prospect."

Garrett is a big-time prospect, too. Plainfield South's 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker is one of the leading recruits in the class of 2014, with Marist tight end Nic Weishar, Prairie Ridge tackle Shane Evans, Bolingbrook defensive back Parker Westphal and Providence tackle Logan Plantz.

"I've seen him on film and he is one of the three top prospects in the sophomore class in Illinois," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "He has size and speed and a great upside.

"With the talent in the class of 2014, the Chicago area could be going back to where it was in the 1980s, when it ruled the roost with California as the leading producers of high school football talent in the country."

Garrett has seen Bailey before. In last year's season opener, Bailey and Bolingbrook crushed Plainfield South 40-16. Bolingbrook went on to win the Class 8A championship while Plainfield South finished 5-5.

"I watched the state final," Garrett said. "Bailey is big and fast and he can run. He's an overall good athlete. I hate losing. I love winning. I'm a big competitor. I'm looking forward to getting another chance to play against him."

In the meantime, Garrett is traveling the recruiting trail and preparing for his junior season. He has come a long way in a short time. He started playing football with the Plainfield Junior Cats as a seventh grader. But his missed his freshman year with a torn meniscus, which he injured while playing basketball. As a sophomore starter on the varsity, he led the team in tackles with 79, despite missing one game with a concussion.

College coaches have seen enough to rate him among the leading prospects in the class of 2014. Illinois offered on May 3, then Indiana. Ohio State offered on May 16, then Michigan State. He has interest from Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Iowa State and Northern Illinois. It's only the beginning.

"My dream school is Ohio State," he said. "I've been watching their games since I was young. I like the way they play defense. I'm impressed by the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium), the fans, coaching staff and new coach Urban Meyer. I've read a lot about him.

"But I'm going to take my time. I'm surprised by what has happened. I didn't think it would happen so fast. Now I see that all my hard work is paying off. I was very excited when coach Vrabel offered me over the phone. It says to me that I'm doing what I need to do, that they like me and I like them."

Don't be in too big a hurry to put Garrett in a scarlet and gray uniform, however. He will attend Illinois' camp on June 8, Michigan State's camp on June 16 and Ohio State's camp on June 21. He hopes to visit the Notre Dame and Michigan State campuses later this summer. He said he doesn't plan to commit until after his junior year.

"Everybody tells me to make sure I make the right choice, not because of the staff or school colors or reputation." Garrett said. "I want to choose the right fit for me. It is very important to go to a school that will prepare me for the next level. The NFL has been a goal since I started to play football. I know the odds are small. But I try to make the odds bigger for myself. I try to be above average in everything I do."

"As a sophomore, he has a great upside," Plainfield South coach Ken Bublitz said. "He is still growing and still learning the game. He will be even better in college.

"There are two things about him that drew the attention of college coaches: the way in which he finishes plays, the way he tackles. He is a hard hitter. When he tackles people, they go backwards. Also his ability to run sideline to sideline with his size and speed."

Garrett hopes college coaches have seen the BolingbrookLincoln-Way East game film, especially the clip when Garrett sacks Lincoln-Way East quarterback Blake Winkler for a loss and forces a fumble. "It showed my explosiveness, my tackling ability and closing speed," he said.

When he played youth football, Garrett wore jersey number 76 because he was a lineman. He would have worn number 25 as a freshman had he been able to play. But he switched to number 40 as a sophomore because his favorite player is linebacker Vaughn Miller, the former Texas A&M All-American who was the Denver Broncos' first draft choice.

"Miller is a big linebacker with great speed and versatility. I relate to him a lot. I think I'm a mixture of him and (San Francisco 49ers linebacker) Patrick Willis. I look up to both of them a lot. My game matches up to them," Garrett said. "I like Dick Butkus, too, but I'm not into old-school players as much. I also like Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis."

Whether Garrett will someday measure up to any of them is still to be determined, of course, but he knows he can get a lot better and he is eager to create a tradition at a high school that is only 10 years old.

"I want to break some records...tackles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, tackles for loss...and leave my mark at the school," he said. "The school doesn't have much of a tradition. But I have two more seasons to go. Every team's goal is to go to state. We have time to establish a tradition of our own."

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

 

The White Sox take on the Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.97 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.40 ERA)

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Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Seattle Mariners on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (10-4, 3.09 ERA) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 3.96 ERA)

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Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after winning 97 wins last season – committing almost $290 million to free agents – or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.

That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.

“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”

This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.

“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero said. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”

While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.

Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.

That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.

“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.

“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”

Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).

The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.

If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player – and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system – Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).

“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”

The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?

“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”