Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

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Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

Illinois football fans who are calling for the ouster of first-year coach Tim Beckman are reminded that Wisconsin boosters and the Madison media endorsed the firing of Barry Alvarez after his first Badger team went 1-11.

From all available evidence, however, it hasn't seemed to deter Beckman's ability to recruit. Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports predicts running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods will be a star at Illinois.

Foster, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior and senior, is the type of player that Beckman needs to improve the talent level of his program, a difference-maker, an instant impact player, a game-changer. Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey could be the same. But the Illini need more of everything.

At Purdue, Joe Tiller re-energized his program when he recruited Drew Brees. Auburn did the same with Cam Newton. And look what Johnny Manziel, a 6-foot quarterback who was passed over by Texas and other major schools, has done for Texas A&M.

"Illinois isn't winning so they don't have any attraction for kids," Lemming said. "But give them an A for effort. Their organization is great. They have been on guys in the Midwest quicker than anyone else in the Big Ten. The bad-mouthing by fans and alumni is undeserved.

"Of course, you must win to draw kids back. Beckman must get the good Illinois players to stay at home. Remember, Beckman was left with an empty cupboard. There isn't much talent on the current roster. They need to get impact players."

To restock the roster with talent that can be competitive in the Big Ten, Lemming said Beckman and his staff must recruit nationally and evaluate everybody from coast to coast. Even Northwestern has become a national recruiter.

"If you can't beat Michigan and Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Midwest, you must go national and be aggressive recruiters. You've got to get a player like Marian Central's Chris Streveler, who went to Minnesota, or Ethan Pocic, who went to LSU, or Ty Isaac, who went to USC, or Jordan Westerkamp, who went to Nebraska."

Beckman is doing his best to make a dent in the class of 2014. There are no first-team All-Americans in Illinois, like Ty Isaac in the class of 2013, but it is a good class that is headed by five players who likely will rank among the top 100 in the nation.

They are tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, linebacker Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South, linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, safety Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook and tackle Jamarco Jones of De La Salle. None of them, however, figure to rank in the top 50.

The nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2013, 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, apparently is headed for Ole Miss after de-committing from Clemson.

Why Ole Miss over Alabama and Georgia, the two other schools he said he was considering?

"When I interviewed him in February, I thought he would go to Alabama," Lemming said. "But he attended the Ole MissArkansas game. His brother plays for Ole Miss. And his mother wants her sons to play together. I think he will go to Ole Miss."

Lemming spent the month of October traveling and observing and evaluating players in Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. "There are a lot of great players in the South," he said.

Alabama has at least seven players who could rank in the top 50 in the nation in the class of 2014.

The best ones are 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Bo Scarborough of Tuscaloosa and 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker Tre Williams of Mobile.

Humphrey, son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey, is a top 10 player who likely will attend his father's alma mater. Scarborough, who is committed to Alabama, is one of the top five running backs in the nation.

Missouri's top prospects are 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman Andy Bauer of St. Louis Vianney, who is committed to Missouri, and 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman Roderick Johnson of St. Louis Hazelwood Central.

It shapes up as a subpar year for quarterbacks nationally but Oklahoma has two blue chippers in 6-foot-5, 220-pound David Cornwell of Jones and 6-foot-4, 200-pound Justice Hansen of Edmond. Another standout is 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back Devon Thomas of Broken Arrow.

But the best player in Oklahoma is 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City, who had 21 sacks in his first eight games. He is a top 20 player nationally.

It is an outstanding year for talent in the Nashville area. The No. 1 prospect in central Tennessee is 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin.

Two of the best players in Arkansas are a pair of nose tackles, 6-foot-2, 320-pound Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado and 6-foot-4, 330-pound Josh Frazier of Fayetteville.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

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Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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