New York Yankees: The Hardworking Story of Kyle Higashioka

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

Beloved by everyone in local media, as well as every clubhouse he stepped foot in to, New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka is the epitome of the ultimate team guy. Kyle has been earning praise and compliments for his contributions to the organization from everyone, including Alex Rodriguez on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast before Higashioka stepped in to the right-handed batting box against David Price.

Even with the previous success of Yankee hitters that night, Kyle’s at-bat was seen more as a formality. Before stepping to the plate for his second at-bat of the night, Higashioka was 0-21 in his career. So when he fell behind 1-2, it can be excused for thinking that the streak would continue.

Until Price hung 89 MPH right down the middle, knee-high. That streak disappeared with authority 400+ feet down the left-field line in to the second deck. Higashioka, bless him, tried his best not to crack a smile on the basepaths, wanting to remain professional, and returned to a dugout that ignored a towering shot 10 years in the making, before finally showering him with the congratulations he so thoroughly deserved:

New York Yankees’ Kyle Higashioka: The Home Run Stroka

After 10 years years of grinding in the minors and getting very limited at-bats in the majors, for him to go deep in that way, on a national stage no less, was awesome to watch.

Little did we know in the games after would we see the hidden power that he possessed. First hit, first home run? Pretty fun to watch.

But how about another?

Not impressed by the first two hits being home runs in the career of Kyle Higashioka? What about three in three? Oh yeah he did that too.

Let’s be honest, once Gary Sanchez comes back off the DL, it would be shocking if manager Aaron Boone chooses Higashioka instead of Austin Romine to be the backup catcher. But make no mistake, this power display by #66 won’t be forgotten by Yankee fans, and will further cement his place as a constant clubhouse favorite.

New York Giants: Surprise Safety Making Run For Starting Job

Previously, we broke down the New York Giants safety position battle between Andrew Adams and Darian Thompson – while both are very much in play to earn the starting free safety job, there’s one surprise player that could swoop in and steal the job.

Curtis Riley, former Tennessee Titan, is the man behind the curtain. The fourth-year safety has only played in seven games in the NFL, making his way from the practice squad to the active roster. In 2017, he recorded 11 tackles, an interception and two passes defended. In 2015, Riley spent the entire season on injured reserve, making his the following year is de-facto rookie season.

Can Riley steal the starting safety job for the Giants?

When Riley was snatched off the streets in March, it was unknown whether he would become a legitimate contender for the free safety job. He was a cornerback when he first arrived but was moved to safety soon after. Maybe, it was exactly what he needed to find the potential that was hiding in the darkness of his abilities.

“Curtis is a guy that, we all know he’s played corner, so he’s got really great feet and hips and range. And the thing I’m probably most proud of him about is how he’s picked it up playing safety because that’s a change, when you go from playing outside, to go inside,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said during mandatory mini-camp. “And some of the checks and the communication and one minute you’re in the post, the next minute you’re down, or you’re playing in the half field, or you’re blitzing off the edge and some of the different duties that our safeties have to handle here. He’s done a really nice job with that.”

Riley’s speed and footwork will pay dividends at the safety position, and figuring his positioning and coverage schemes will ultimately be the most daunting challenge of the transition. At the very least, Riley can provide support as a reserve safety/corner in the season ahead.

New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson Impresses Coach Fizdale

New York Knicks, David Fizdale

New York Knicks rookie big man, Mitchell Robinson, has spent the better part of a year not playing organized basketball prior to being drafted. Despite his lack of true game experience, Robinson came out firing in-front of coach David Fizdale, further justifying the drafting of the 7-foot-1 rim-runner.

“Man, is he athletic,” Fizdale said, according to Newsday. “Kid’s got pretty good feel for the game. He’s in great shape. And athletically, he’s a freak. He’s in the one percentile of high flyers and runners. It’s just not many guys that’s that athletic.”

Robinson’s decision:

Robinson was once considered a first-round draft piece before dropping out of Western Kentucky and taking on the NBA process on his own.

“Yes, sir,” Robinson said. “Sitting out the whole year was tough for half the year. But then time got close and my mind started getting right, like ‘I’m about to start playing again, so keep working hard.’

For a player to not experience college basketball and neglect any real organized basketball is hard to believe, but for Mitchell, it was just part of his process.

Coach Fizdale has compared the lengthy big-man to Clint Capela, a big-time shot blocker and dunk connoisseur.

“I want to encourage him to be great at what he’s good at right now,” Fizdale said. “Can we just get him a game? His game right now is running and jumping. So anything that has to do with that, how good can I make him at that first?”

While Robinson acquires a ton of raw talent, he’s still a project in the works. He will need to work on his post game and jump shot if he wants to become an effective NBA player. For the Knicks, he can be a high-profile big-man, but it will be interesting to see how they develop him and what skills they favor in regard to their scheme and roster. I would expect him to get some decent playing time this year, yet still hitting the necessary rookie speed-bumps.

 

Reviewing Each Position On The New York Giants’ Offensive Line

New York Giants, Eli Manning

While the New York Giants have allocated money and draft picks to upgrade the offensive line this season, it’s still unknown whether the unit will actually live up to its expectations. The signing of left tackle Nate Solder was a huge boost to Eli Manning’s blind side and the entire left side of the line as a whole.

It can be assumed that the left side of the line will be the most dominant, as Solder and second-round pick Will Hernandez will hold down the fort. The right side on the other hand is in question, as Patrick Omameh will take over at right tackle, despite having a below average year in Jacksonville last season, and Ereck Flowers will be tested at right tackle. With that being said, let’s take a look at each position specifically and how the final unit could look by September.

Left tackle:

This one is easy, since general manager Dave Gettleman didn’t splash $15 million per-season for Nate Solder to ride the bench. Solder started off his 2017 campaign slowly, but after week two, he didn’t allow a sack for the remainder of the season. He was a primary reason Tom Brady was able to find his way to the Super Bowl once again. For Manning, he will give him serious aid from his blind side and provide him with the time he requires to operate the offense at a high level.

Left guard:

While Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh have both received reps at left guard, it’s expected that Hernandez will eventually lock up the starting LG spot. The UTEP offensive lineman is coming off a season where his team failed to win a single game. Not once did Herenandez give up or lack effort. His aggressive nature and bullish attitude will work wonders in the locker room and on the field.

Gettleman prefers his lineman mean, strong, and as he would say it, a hardcore “hog mollie.” Hernandez fits the mold perfectly for a rejuvenated offense, and he will play a massive role in opening up lanes for Saquon Barkley to run through and providing time for Manning to move through his progressions.

His anger is an interesting topic, though. Will is model citizen off the field, but the second he steps onto the turf, he’s “The Hulk.” So far as a Giant, Hernandez has already been in a minimum of three fights. I just can’t wait to see him unleash against Dallas.

In terms of talent, Hernandez has a boat-load of potential and raw ability. He’s on the shorter side at 6-foot-3 with shorter arms, but he plays with power and leverage. He uses his stocky frame to get underneath the pads of opposing defensive lineman, which allows him to control their core. There’s no doubt he will become even stronger at the NFL level, which can spurs more optimism heading into training camp.

Center:

When the offseason workouts officially began, it was expected that Brett Jones would take over at center after performing well in the absence of Weston Richburg last season. That narrative has since changed, as his best friend, Jon Halapio, has supplanted him as the favorite and has worked with the first-team for a majority of camp.

Jones is a serviceable lineman that can play multiple position, while Halapio is much of the same, but it’s possible the coaching staff want to keep Jones as a reserve in case of injury. Jones has played in 30 games in just two years while Halapio has only managed to play 10 in four years. Coincidentally, Jon’s games have all been with the Giants, a team that saw their offensive line stripped to the bare bones in 2017.

With the changes in front-office this off-season, Jones has witnessed a major change in the systems and schemes he faces during practice. Defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, brings several fronts that are meant to confuse lineman before the snap. Jones has been at the front of it and he knows just how difficult it has been.

According to Giants.com:

“I think that a lot of the defenses that teams are playing, they always have that front on first and second downs and under front and things that they do,” center Brett Jones said. “I think that it’s good for us to see that all the time, and it’s easy to adjust to a team that plays [it] four downs. So I think that that’s good practice for us and I think it’s only going to help us as the season goes on.”

In regard to Halapio:

“Pio is very smart,” Shurmur said. “He’s got good instincts – he snaps the ball well, which is a really refreshing thing for a center. That was supposed to be humorous (laughs). But no, he does all of those things well and he’s very competitive and he knows how to play the game. I think Jonesy is doing the same thing. They’re just in there competing. I wouldn’t over-evaluate who is getting the first-team reps, but I think if you’re talking about Pio specifically, he has really sort of opened his eyes that he has a chance to play.”

The bottom line, this will be a competition to watch out for in training camp, as it could go either way at this point, despite Halapio earning most of the first-team reps so far.

Right guard:

The Giants signed Omameh to a three-year, $15 million deal this offseason, instilling their confidence in an undrafted guard that has struggled in recent years. He has solid experience under his belt but is still in search of further development. Omameh finished the 2017 season as the No. 36 guard overall, according to PFF.

At just 28 years-old, there is certainly some untapped potential with Patrick, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic heading into the season. He’s an average guard at best and has not shown signs of being a Pro Bowl player. It seems as if he will be a solid fill-in until Gettleman can address the right guard position in future years.

Right tackle:

Ereck Flowers will take over the right tackle spot after being replaced by Solder this offseason. This will be a huge risk for a Giants team trying to piece together their offensive line after a horrendous 2017. Flowers has shown signs of life and development so far, as he’s spent time with Solder learning the ropes of professionalism and technique.

According to Brian Baldinger, switching from left to right tackle is like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. If you can grasp that concept, you can probably grasp the idea that Flowers is in for a bumpy ride. I would temper your expectations if you have any at all, since his primary issue has been footwork and hand placement. Those two factors are the lifeline for any lineman, and Flowers is bad at both. He needs serious refinement and training to correct those mistakes, and making the switch to right tackle doesn’t make it any easier.

The only benefit from switching sides is that he can now use his dominant right-foot to establish a base and foundation. That should give him more balance and higher probability of holding back an edge rusher. One of the major issues with Flowers was his frequency to give up on a play or lose confidence. He will need to maintain a solid level of confidence if he wishes to keep his job at right tackle. That leads us to another point – Chad Wheeler.

Wheeler stepped in to fill the RT spot when Bobby Hart was benched. The former USC lineman played well, sparingly.

It’s unlikely Wheeler can beat out Flowers for the starting job, but I wouldn’t rule out a mid-season change if the latter fails to live up to expectations.