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Many fans and commentators in this town believe the Cubs brass has what it takes to draft and develop the team into contention for a title. And all those folks have to be loving the first few days of spring training, where we can all fawn over the prospects without having to worry about those pesky things known as results.
Because of course there still aren't any positive major league results of note for Cubs hitters who have come up from the minors in the past few years other than Jorge Soler hitting reasonably well in his 24 games at the end of the 2014 season. Unfortunately, Soler, like so many of the team's prospects, isn't exactly an on-base machine. Happiness about his .292 batting average (with five homers and eight doubles) during his almost-month in the majors is tempered by his .330 on-base percentage.
But if people really want to admire drafting and developing in this town, they should forget the North Side. Go west, young sports fans, all the way to the United Center. Because, particularly in light of Tony Snell's recent surge, it is clear that the guys doing the best drafting and developing around here are Bulls general manger Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau.
Even with role players getting better and better, this Bulls team still relies so much on its centerpiece. When Derrick Rose plays reasonably well, the team has a chance and it posts results like Saturday's 112-107 victory over the Suns. When Rose struggles, results happen like the dispiriting loss to the Pistons the previous night.
But the ongoing contributions of those supporting stalwarts must be noted. And their production is all the more impressive given where they were drafted.
Whereas the Cubs will draft in the top 10 for the fourth year in a row this summer, the Bulls haven't had a top 10 draft pick since 2008, when the Bulls of course took Mr. Rose.
In the year after that, the run of late first-round draft picks who would eventually develop into big time contributors for the Bulls began. Taj Gibson was selected 26th overall in 2009 and was last seen making all the gritty gutty plays, and hitting five of five shots from the field, in the fourth quarter against the Suns. Gibson has also played through a hand injury injury of late that would have sidelined plenty of his NBA peers for at least weeks.
Two years later, Jimmy Butler was selected even further back, with the 30th and final pick of the first round. Butler put the capper on two years of progress (after he essentially sat out his rookie season, watching and learning) by earning All-Star status earlier this month.
Shortly thereafter, the Bulls worked the deal (again operating without top 10 picks) that earned them the right to sign European prospect Nikola Mirotic, who didn't arrive until this season and was last seen hitting a huge three against the Suns on Saturday. Mirotic also starred during All-Star weekend, although not in the actual All-Star game. He scored 16 points for the victorious "World" team during the Rising Stars game that pitted first- and second-year players from America against their counterparts from elsewhere.
And finally there is Tony Snell, who was the 20th pick in the first round in 2013. When the Bulls needed him most before the All-Star break with Butler hampered and then held out due to a sore shoulder, Snell dropped in 24 and 22 points, respectively, versus Sacramento and Cleveland. With Butler back in the lineup against the Pistons and Suns, Snell's minutes dropped back to 15 and 18, respectively, and his contributions were far more modest.
The main thing is, Snell is coming along, just like Butler and Gibson before him. The Cubs should be so fortunate that any of their prospective hitters do so well.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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