Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

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Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

Blake Hickman is 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds. When he enrolled at Simeon as a freshman, coaches tried to persuade him to play football and basketball. But he wasn't persuaded. He wanted to play baseball and it looks like his persistence is paying off. Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

"I knew coming out of eighth grade that I would go to Simeon," he said. "My brother went there and Simeon has a good baseball program. They tried to get me to play football and basketball but I knew baseball was my future and my favorite sport.

"I started to play baseball when I was 5 years old. The game is exciting to me. I didn't want to be like the others who played basketball. I felt I was good at baseball."

As a senior, Hickman is hearing more whispers in his ear. Some scouts insist his future is as a hard-throwing pitcher rather than a catcher. But Hickman loves to catch, he'd rather be behind the plate than in front of it.

"I watched my older brother Christian catch," said Hickman, whose brother currently is a shortstop at Alcorn State. "We had a game after him and I asked the coach: 'Can I catch?' I fell in love with it. I want to be a catcher. It's my favorite position.

"I know they want to see me on the mound. I have been timed at 93-94 miles per hour. I know they are looking for someone like that. If it doesn't work out, I'll play anywhere. I can't argue with them. I can't worry about what the scouts say. I just go out and play.

"But I want to be a catcher. I'm in every play. I can throw people out. I can control the pitching staff. When I'm on the mound, I feel OK. I just try to get a win for my team. In the end, my goal is to go to college and play pro ball."

Earlier this season, however, Hickman had reason to wonder if he'd ever play again. On April 5, in a spring game at Harrisburg, Illinois, he attempted to block a pitch in the dirt. The ball bounced up and struck him in the throat.

"The pain was indescribable," he recalled. "I wondered if I would play again this year or if I would ever talk again. I couldn't talk for three days."

Hickman was flown to a hospital in Evansville, Indiana, where he underwent an emergency tracheotomy. He missed 12 games. He had a run-scoring double in Simeon's 2-1 victory over Lane Tech for the Public League championship and contributed two doubles and a grand slam homer in a 19-0 victory over Phillips in the regional opener.

Now Hickman has another decision to make. He committed to Iowa in April of his junior year. "I felt that was the best school for me. The coaches really showed that they wanted me. They came at me the most," said Hickman, who chose Iowa over Virginia Tech and Tennessee.

But he was selected in the 20th round of the major league draft on June 5 by the Cubs. He was rated as the 18th best high school catcher in the nation according to one national survey. What will he do?

"He is one of the best players ever to come out of Simeon," said coach Leroy Franklin, who has had 25 players selected in the major league draft and sent more than 60 to college.

"Some scouts say he didn't hit like they wanted him to hit. I don't see anything wrong with his (catching) mechanics. I think he can catch at the next level.

"But he has a big frame and he can throw 95 mph so he is more valuable as a pitcher. There aren't many good catchers in the major leagues but the first thing the scouts want is a pitcher. He'll throw even faster in college. He just wants to play pro ball."

Sean Duncan of Chicago-based Prep Baseball Report thinks Hickman's future is on the mound.

"I really don't think he can catch," Duncan said. "On the mound, he is pretty interesting. He is extremely raw but the arm works. He's the wild card in the draft. Not a lot of people have seen him on the mound. The kid is 90-93 mph on the mound without any pitching background."

Willson Contreras showing why he belongs as big part of Cubs' plans

Willson Contreras showing why he belongs as big part of Cubs' plans

NEW YORK — Jeurys Familia schooled Willson Contreras, the New York Mets closer blowing the Cubs rookie away in the ninth inning on Thursday night at Citi Field with five pitches clocked between 96 and 98 mph.

Contreras fouled off one pitch in the middle of that at-bat but whiffed three times, striking out swinging with the bases loaded after Familia intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, trying to protect a one-run lead.

“He learned a lesson,” manager Joe Maddon said of Contreras, replaying the end of that 4-3 loss against a closer who’s 27-for-27 in save chances this season. “Familia didn’t even throw one strike, I don’t think, among all those hitters, but his stuff moves that harshly. It’s really that good. I would like to believe the next time they see him, they might have a different approach.”

[MORE CUBS TALK: Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks]

That’s yet another reason why the Cubs don’t plan to send Contreras back to Triple-A Iowa, understanding how valuable he could become in October and beyond.

“He’s shown that he belongs here,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely shown that he can do this. (He’s saying): ‘I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere.’”

There are looming roster decisions, with Adam Warren scheduled to make a spot start against the Cincinnati Reds next week at Wrigley Field after getting stretched out at Triple-A Iowa. Tommy La Stella (hamstring) could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend. Dexter Fowler (hamstring) might not return to the lineup until after the All-Star break. The Cubs haven’t really given a timeline on Jorge Soler (hamstring).

But Contreras has already proven his versatility, moving to left field and first base while living up to his catcher-of-the-future label and hitting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 10 RBIs through his first 13 games in The Show.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

As long as Contreras continues to absorb the team’s game-planning system — and learn all the different personalities on this pitching staff — his rocket arm might also help the Cubs control the running game better than they did during last year’s National League Championship Series loss to the Mets.

“That was like the floor — to bring him up as a third catcher and get his feet wet, see how it goes,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “knowing that we could easily send him back down. But we always were transparent about leaving open the possibility that he might take off and hit the ground running. And he certainly has.

“No pun intended, he’s willed himself into this position. No decrees about this formally, but he’s obviously played himself into a position to take on real responsibility and help the team win. He’s earned his spot on the team.”

Blackhawks agree to terms with Spencer Abbott on one-year deal

Blackhawks agree to terms with Spencer Abbott on one-year deal

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with forward Spencer Abbott on a one-year deal, the team announced Friday.

The 28-year-old winger scored 14 goals and 21 assists in 42 games last season with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Hockey League. He also tallied one assist in nine postseason games.

Abbott is familiar with the Blackhawks organization, spending some time during the 2014-15 season with the Rockford IceHogs, where he appeared in 19 games and registered 12 goals and nine assists. He also recorded three goals and three assists in eight playoff games.

Abbott will likely begin the season in Rockford, but gives the Blackhawks some depth up front at a low cost.

Injury Report: Dexter Fowler close to return; Sox lose another while making debut

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Injury Report: Dexter Fowler close to return; Sox lose another while making debut

Each week, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the injury report from both the Cubs and White Sox, presented by Service King.

CUBS

Dexter Fowler (hamstring) is due to come off the disabled list early next week and the Cubs initially believed he may not even need a rehab stint, so he could make his return atop the Cubs lineup on the upcoming homestand. That is, however, if he's OK after getting drilled by a slugging toddler.

Jorge Soler (hamstring) traveled with the Cubs to New York and there is still no timetable for his return or when he would head out on a rehab assignment. He is participating in batting practice and has been seen taking some grounders in the field.

Tommy La Stella (hamstring) and Clayton Richard (finger) are both currently on rehab assignments with Triple-A Iowa and both guys could be back with the big-league club soon. However, the Cubs may leave Richard in the minors for a little while to figure out his struggles (7.30 in 22 games with Chicago).

WHITE SOX

The White Sox are having terrible luck with players making their debut this season.

Matt Davidson’s first game with the White Sox on Thursday started off great, recording an RBI-single in his second plate appearance. But it didn’t end well. Davidson suffered a broken right foot while rounding the bases trying to advance on a J.B. Shuck double. The White Sox recalled Carlos Sanchez on Friday to replace Davidson.

Melky Cabrera has missed a few games and will miss few more with a right wrist sprain. Cabrera left Saturday’s game after rolling his wrist diving for a fly ball, but X-rays came up negative.

Justin Morneau continues to progress from his elbow surgery he had back in December. If things go as planned, he could begin a rehab assignment next week. The White Sox veteran is traveling with the team this weekend to Houston and will re-evaluate at the end of the series.

Zach Putnam was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 21 with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow. Putnam has a pair of options: surgery (two types) or rehab. The White Sox reliever is hoping to avoid any sort of surgery, which would effectively end his season. For now, Putnam will continue to rest his arm and let the inflammation decrease. He will travel with the team to Houston and could attempt to play catch soon.