Baez starring in Arizona Fall League

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Baez starring in Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League action kicked off last week and several Cubs got their first taste of the competitive action.

John Arguello, who runs CubsDen and focuses a lot on the organization's prospects, was down in Arizona last week and caught the last few days of the instructional league and the first few days of the AFL.

Javier Baez was the main sticking point, as he is the Cubs' top prospect in many people's eyes (including Arguello's), despite the recent additions of Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

"Baez is definitely the draw," Arguello said. "It's nice to see the other guys in the fall league, but Baez is a start. The other guys aren't stars. He stands out...No matter who he plays against, even amongst the stars, he stands out for his bat speed and his instincts at shortstop are very good.

"You go to watch Baez. He's the guy that could be a difference-maker. It's a different feel. When he comes to bat, you know people are watching. They want to see what he's going to do next."

The Cubs just locked Starlin Castro up for the better part of the next decade, which means the shortstop position is filled, barring a position change for a franchise cornerstone player. That has led to rumors that Baez may wind up moving to third base if he continues to progress and makes good on his promise, allowing the Cubs to get both guys in the lineup.

Baez actually got some work in at third base in the AFL, and Arguello saw him make two errors and botch a throw in what was a rough day in the field for the Cubs' top infield prospect.

But he continued to impress at the plate.

"The bat speed just stands out," Arguello said. "The first game, he was a little anxious. Maybe a little too aggressive. He was a little off balance on a couple swings. He just looked like he was trying to do too much.

"The second game I went to, he looked like he was a different hitter. He was working the count a little bit better...His home run, he worked the count to 3-0. The guy threw it letter-high and he just crushed it.

"If you really want to see Baez, you have to go see the game, but you also have to see batting practice and just watch -- and listen -- to him take some swings up there. He puts on a show. It's fun to watch."

Arguello also saw some other Cubs prospects during his time down in Arizona, including Matt Szczur and Nick Struck, the organization's pitcher of the year.

Arguello saw Struck, a 23-year-old righty, pitch a couple of times, utilizing his full repertoire and displaying his aggressiveness. Szczur, a 23-year-old outfielder who was rated the No. 64 prospect by Baseball America prior to 2012, stole a couple of bases in the games Arguello saw and his athleticism was on full display, but didn't show much power.

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?

The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?

That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: