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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Kap on the panel. Jonathan Toews is still not back at practice. Is it time to panic?

Meanwhile, the Bulls beat the Spurs. And Rajon Rondo compliments the coaches? Is all well in Bulls-town?

Plus, Dexter Fowler is Cardinal. Should Cubs fans be angry?

And finally, is it good idea for Jordan Howard to get the ball less for the rest of the season?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: 

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

At one point, it was looking like Lucas Giolito could be headed to the White Sox in exchange for Chris Sale.

But when Sale was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, Giolito's name was in the clear of rumors — until 29 hours later, when the Nationals' top prospect would be headed to Chicago in a different trade, which sent outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington.

“It’s kind of like the world we live in now. Social media is always out there and everything is on Twitter,” Giolito said in a conference call Friday. “I saw my name being mentioned on Twitter for Chris Sale. I know with the winter meetings all sorts of stuff being thrown around. I was just trying to focus on what I’m doing in this offseason which is lifting and all my workouts. Kind of just whatever happens, happens. 

“It’s funny that Sale ended up going to the Red Sox and something else happens that I’m going to the White Sox now with a couple teammates. It’s really interesting stuff but I’m super excited.”

The move for Rick Hahn & Co. to acquire Giolito was the second major trade to begin the White Sox rebuilding process. But Giolito didn't come alone.

In addition, the White Sox received Reynaldo Lopez — who Giolito has played with since 2014 — and the Nationals' 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning.

"I definitely think it’s amazing to be coming over to the White Sox with a bunch of young talent," Giolito said. "I think it’s a great opportunity for us to all develop and get better and hopefully put a really good team together in Chicago. Definitely excited to be coming over with a couple guys from my previous organization."

[MORE: Rick Hahn, White Sox prepared to make more 'painful decisions' if the price is right]

Giolito went 6-5 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.28 WHIP across three minor-league levels this past season. He admitted his mechanics weren't quite in sync and is looking to improve on that.

"Sometimes things get out of whack. I believe I let too much get out of whack last year," Giolito said. "So this year with my training program I have in this offseason — lifting and Pilates and everything — I’m just trying to make sure that I can stay as athletic as possible so I’m able to repeat the right delivery more often. Once I start playing catch and doing bullpens and everything these next few weeks, right before spring training, I’m going to make sure I put that all together so I can repeat my delivery as best as possible."

His struggles continued when he got to The Show.

In his major-league debut on June 28, Giolito held the New York Mets to just one hit over four scoreless innings before a rain delay cut his night short. That turned out to be his most effective outing of the season as he finished the year with an 0-1 record, 6.75 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in six games with the Nationals, four of them being starts.

"(My MLB debut) didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked it to go, obviously, as you look at the numbers and everything," he said, "but I feel that with the White Sox now (and) getting traded and everything, it’s kind of like a fresh opportunity and a new start to get up to the big leagues again and contribute and do everything I can to stay there as well."

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Despite his low numbers, the 22-year-old Giolito believes he's ready to play on the White Sox main roster as soon as next season.

"I’ve had some experience in the big leagues last year," Giolito said. "Especially last year, I took a lot positives away because I did experience such a good amount of failure in a lot of I’d say like hardship when I made it up and didn’t perform up to what I believe is my best capabilities.

"I’ve pitched a good amount of innings in the minor leagues and I’ve had a little experience in the big leagues so I’m just really looking forward to making it up in the big leagues with the White Sox and contributing as soon as possible."