Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

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Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

Starlin Castro shrugged off striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not much seems to bother him, and that has to be considered one of his strengths.

Castro lost that battle to Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford on Monday night and froze at the 96 mph fastball that ended the game. Castros attitude: Next time.

That also broke Castros streak of reaching base safely in 43 consecutive games, which dated back to Aug. 15 of last season.

Keep going, Castro said Tuesday. You got to keep going.

That sums up a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop who thinks Why not? when people ask him about 3,000 hits, the Hall of Fame and being the Derek Jeter of the North Side.

If Castro is going to reach those heights or crash the Cubs should get a better idea in his third year in the majors. When team president Theo Epstein talks about parallel fronts, Castro is pretty much at the center of the Venn diagram.

Its a pretty good building block, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its so easy with him to forget about his age and you think about him as an established guy. Well, hes probably younger that some of the top prospects in the game and hes already hit .300 in the big leagues twice. So sometimes I think we lose sight of that.

Starlin is one of the best young players in the game. Hes already proven at the big-league level (and) we all think theres a lot more in there. I think there is a lot of power in there at some point. Young shortstops make errors. The key (is) concentration. Its every single pitch.

Manager Dale Sveum, an old shortstop, made that a point of emphasis from the first workout in spring training, showing Castro how to gain more ground. Their relationship will be a key part of this rebuilding project.

By October, Castro should have played more than 430 games in the big leagues, perhaps approaching a leadership position within the clubhouse. He will have to cut down on the 56 errors in his first two seasons combined.

Its that time to mature defensively, to mature on the mental side of the game, Sveum said. Hes been very good at responding to everything you ask him to do. I think he realizes that hes going to be held accountable.

Hes pushing himself, putting it on himself, challenging himself each day to see how good he can be on the 100 groundballs hes taken. Thats a big step for any young player to critique himself on his day of work.

For the future of the franchise, Sveum felt it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter.

Plate discipline is one area where the Cubs think Castro can unlock some power and take another leap forward. As the Brewers hitting coach, Sveum saw what it did for Ryan Braun (even if some will put an asterisk next to that MVP award).

It just puts you in a whole nother category, Sveum said. The bottom line to hitting home runs is getting a good pitch to hit. Youre not going to hit many home runs if you dont wait for a pitch (where you can) drive the ball out of the ballpark.

Castro found his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons last winter, though people close to him privately insist theres no story there. The kid is still smiling, and really just getting started.

Any player has to (have it) in their own mind that youre always a work in progress, Sveum said. Its just understanding that every single day when we take a field, youre trying to make yourself a better player.

Thats the work in progress, but thats (something) Ive tried to implement with everyone else: Youve never got this thing figured out. You always have to make your skills better every single day or your skills will deteriorate. I dont care how good you are thats just the nature of the beast.

62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

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62 Days To Kickoff: North Chicago

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O'Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we'll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: North Chicago

Head coach: Addonte Adams

Assistant Coaches: Jamal Patterson OC Wilton Hill Joshua Franklin Orlando Kilpatrick

How they fared in 2016: 3-6 (2-5 Northern Lake County conference), failed to qualify for the 2016 IHSA state playoffs.

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 25 – @ Waukegan

Sept. 1 – vs Robeson

Sept. 8 – @ Round Lake

Sept. 15 - vs Grayslake North

Sept. 22 - @ Grant

Sept. 29 – vs Wauconda

Oct. 6 - vs Grayslake Central

Oct. 13 - @ Antioch

Oct. 20 - vs Lakes

Biggest storyline: Can the Warhawks get back to winning and into the state playoff field in 2017?

Names to watch this season:  Senior LB Garrett Turner Senior WR/DB Ishaun Walker Senior QB/ATH Dyshaun Gates

Biggest holes to fill: The Warhawks return a ton of starters from a season ago, however just one starter is back on the offensive line in senior OC Joseph Gaiden.

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a while since the Warhawks have been a threat in either the conference or in the state playoffs, yet that could change in 2017. North Chicago went young last season and gained a ton of playing experience in 2016. If head coach Addonte Adams can get his Warhawks to buy into his program, this has the potential of becoming a team to watch this fall. 

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

It’s a business, but Blackhawks still feel sting of emotional deals

Coach Joel Quenneville stood in the United Center hallway, summing up what had been a difficult Friday.

“Very emotional deals,” he said on Saturday morning, as Day 2 of the NHL Draft commenced. “A lot to process there.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks had a busy and difficult day on Friday, trading defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona and swapping Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Quenneville was seen by media leaving a coaches meeting in between the Hjalmarsson and Panarin/Saad trades on Friday morning and he wasn’t at the Blackhawks’ table on Friday, unusual for the opening night of the draft. But he said his absence wasn’t about the trades.

“Not at all,” he said.

Still, as Quenneville said, big moves are a lot to process, even for a team that’s done its share of shedding players since the 2010 offseason. General manager Stan Bowman said Friday was filled with, “high emotions… when you make some difficult decisions.” Jonathan Toews said on Friday night that, “everyone’s kind of shocked” by recent events, including Marian Hossa’s loss. Toews added he was wary of saying the team was better today, out of respect for departed players.

“It’s hard to sit there and say that without sounding like you’re being disrespectful to two teammates you care for and know were huge parts of the team,” he said.

We talk about the business side of hockey all the time. You make the tough decisions and then you move forward. But there’s a human element to all of this that’s easy to forget. Players, especially those who are with an organization for a long time as Hjalmarsson was, make their impact on and off the ice. Teammates and coaches are spending endless amounts of time together, and those bonds, coupled with what they all go through during regular seasons and Stanley-Cup runs, endure. Saying goodbye is difficult.

For Quenneville, seeing Hjalmarsson leave was very difficult.

“Well, certainly Hammer, he’s one of those heart-and-soul guys and was instrumental in winning some championships for us. You feel for him and what he meant to his team and his teammates and fans here and the city of Chicago. He’s one of those guys that you have an appreciation to watch and see how he competes and knowing what he fights through to stay on the ice in a lot of games. He’s a heart-and-souler. Those guys are hard to see go,” Quenneville said. “Bread Man wasn’t here long enough to really get that consistency over term. But Hammer really did give a lot to the organization. And we are very appreciative of the Bread Man, because he could wow us and entertain us and a great kid, as well.”

Still, there’s the positive side. Quenneville and Toews are thrilled to have Saad back in the fold. Toews and Saad had great chemistry, the first time around and Quenneville said he’ll put those two together to start the season – “I know that [Patrick Kane] finds a way to make it happen, no matter who’s playing at center or on his left. It really adds a one-two punch that hopefully we get consistency and predictability in that area,” Quenneville said.

Saad should also help fill at least some of the void left from Hossa.

It’s another offseason during which the Blackhawks are feeling the losses, professionally as well as personally. You process, you deal with the sting and then you proceed. That’s the business.

“As a coach, we’re in the short-term business, we’re thinking about now,” Quenneville said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to better ourselves right now and looking to win today. And that’s our challenge and that’s what we look at.”