What to watch for in the NFL draft

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What to watch for in the NFL draft

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL draft begins Thursday night with the first round, continues Friday night with the second and third rounds, and runs through Saturday, when the final four rounds will be held at Radio City Music Hall. The Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams both went 2-14 last season and had the top two picks, but the Rams traded the second spot to Washington.Some things to look for in this year's draft:------AT THE TOPThe first two picks will be quarterbacks: Andrew Luck of Stanford, who will go to the Colts, followed by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who is headed to the Redskins.Luck is considered the most NFL-ready quarterback since Peyton Manning left Tennessee in 1998 for the Colts. Oddly, he will wind up as Manning's replacement in Indy after the four-time MVP was released by the Colts and signed with Denver. Rarely do college quarterbacks call their own plays or have total freedom behind center. Luck did.RGIII is more of a running threat than Luck and has a stronger arm. He did not play in a prostyle offense the way Luck did in college, but Griffin's skill set and intelligence make him just as attractive as Luck.------A CRIMSON FIRST ROUNDFrom national champions to first-round draft picks.Five members of the Alabama Crimson Tide could have their names called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, four from the outstanding defense.Safety Mark Barron and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and running back Trent Richardson all are highly touted. Richardson is expected to go in the first six picks."We want to help them develop as a football player, which means have a great career here, win a championship and see if you can play at the next level," Tide coach Nick Saban said.Alabama has eight players likely to be drafted. The others are nose tackle Josh Chapman, cornerback DeQuan Menzie and wide receiverkick returner Marquis Maze.Roll Tide.------TOP JUNIORSThe first round will be packed with players who had eligibility remaining, including top choices Luck and Griffin. Richardson, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, all projected to go in top 10, are underclassmen.A total of 65 underclassmen, the most ever, applied for the draft. Not all of them will get picked, but some will earn big bucks. Look for other non-seniors to go in the first round, such as Alabama's Hightower and Kirkpatrick, linebackers Luke Kuechly of Boston College and Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, defensive linemen Nick Perry of Southern California and Michael Brockers of LSU, and guard David DeCastro of Stanford.------STRONGEST POSITIONQuarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive ends who pile up sacks are the glamour positions. They are not always the deepest positions in the draft.This year, only three quarterbacks are expected to go in the opening round: Luck, Griffin and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. The strength in this grab bag of a draft is at cornerback and on the defensive line.It's possible that four cornerbacks will come off the board in the first 32 picks, beginning with Claiborne. Others to watch for at that position are Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina, Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jackson of North Alabama. Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron is another defensive back almost certain to go early.Defensive lineman likely destined to disappear in the first round are Perry, Brockers, Cox, Quinton Coples of North Carolina, Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, Kendell Reyes of Connecticut, Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, Devon Still of Penn State, and Upshaw, who can play linebacker or end.------SLEEPERSFive players who could sneak into the first round:Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis -- At 6-foot-4, 346 pounds, he can clog the middle by himself, but he is incredibly streaky. His workouts showed more talent than his game tapes.Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor -- Experienced receiver with lots of speed and the moves to be a factor from the slot. Excels after the catch.Cordy Glenn, OT-G, Georgia -- Started as a freshman in the SEC, which is impressive. Versatile and durable, outstanding in the run game.Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State -- A 28-year-old who played minor league baseball before college football. Brings maturity, accuracy and NFL-caliber arm strength and size.Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State -- Has the size to play inside or outside, and he never backs down. Could also be a factor on special teams.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

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Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

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Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”