New York Giants will take 2020 opt outs into consideration in draft

New York Giants, Gregory Rousseau

We don’t know what direction the New York Giants are leaning in the draft yet, but more information is coming out about the team’s parameters for choosing a player. Many players opted out of the 2020 college season due to COVID-19, and these players might just find themselves at a disadvantage compared to those who played out the season. At least, in the eyes of the Giants management.

Director of college scouting Chris Pettit had some things to say about these players. Among the things he said, he revealed the Giants haven’t been able to talk to these players as much as they want.

“You really just had to sit and wait on these opt-out guys. We weren’t allowed to talk to them and we talk to everybody, and you just ask your sources and build your character piece throughout the fall like any other player. You’ve got to do a lot of projecting, that’s what this business is,” Pettit said about the matter.

He continued by saying the Giants will have to take their absences into consideration. “But you had the benefit of some showing up to the Senior Bowl, you got down there, got to see them work, see what shape they were in. Again, it’s hard, some of these guys haven’t had pads on in 20 months when we’re going to get them and that’s part of the piece that we’re going to have to take into consideration.”

Most of the players linked with the Giants in this draft played in 2020, but pass rusher Gregory Rousseau is one name that has often been mocked to the team and opted out last year. Could that impact his draft stock with the Giants despite his big stats in 2019?

It’s quite possible, based on these words from Pettit.

New York Yankees Recap: Giancarlo Stanton hits two home runs in win over the Indians

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Tonight was game two of a four-game set between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees won the first game 6-3. On the mound, tonight for the Yankees was Jordan Montgomery and for the Indians Logan Allen. It was another cold and breezy right for baseball in Cleveland.

Leading off in the first against Allen was DJ LeMahieu led off singling. Giancarlo Stanton flew out for far center. Aaron Judge struck out, and Gleyber Torres flew out to center to end the half. At the bottom facing Montgomery was Jordan Luplow, who flew out to Aaron Judge. Cesar Hernandez walked. Jose Ramirez walked. With two on and one out, Reyes got an RBI double driving in Hernandez, with Ramirez moving to third. Eddie Rosario singled, driving in another Indian’s run. Amed Rosario singled, driving in another run. Roberto Perez ground out, but Monty used 37 pitches and gave up three runs. Indians 3 Yankees 0.

Gio Urshela led off the top of the second inning even though it seemed like the fourth. He ground out off the leg of Allen. Aaron Hicks followed with a home run. Gary Sanchez singled up the middle. Clint Frazier flew out to the center-field wall. Rougie Odor hit a homer well into the right-field stands to tie up the game at 3 and driving in Sanchez. LeMahieu ground out to short, but the Yankees tied up the game. Yu Chang led off the bottom by striking out. Gimenez lined out to Odor, who made a beautiful spinning play for first. Luplow flew out for a 1-2-3 inning for Monty. Yankees 3 Indians 3.

At the top of the third, Giancarlo Stanton led off by hitting a missile line drive into the left-field stands. Aaron Judge waked. Gleyber Torres hit a bullet directly to the third baseman. A pitching change bought Phil Maton to the mound. Gio Urshela hit into a double play to end the half. At the bottom, Hernandez ground out to Urshela. Ramirez walked. Reyes popped back to Monty for the final out. New York Yankees 4 Indians 3.

Aaron Hicks led off the fourth by striking out on the left side. Gary Sanchez strikeout swinging and hit catcher Perez off the back of the head. Clint Frazier walked to bring up Rougie Odor, who struck out. At the bottom, Amed Rosario struck out. Roberto Perez ground out to Torres for the second out. Chang flew out to second for the second 1-2-3 inning for Monty. Yankees 4 Indians 3

DJ led off the fifth by popping out to foul territory in right, off the New pitcher Trevor Stephan. Stanton followed with his second home run of the game. Judge struck out. Torres flew out to shallow center. The bottom of the inning was led off by Gimenez, who struck out Luplow doubled past Urshela. Hernandez went down on strikes. Ramirez reached on a bobbled play by Odor. Luplow went to third base. That was it for Montgomery. Luetge came in to face Reyes struck out, leaving two Indians on base. Yankees 5 Indians 3.

Gio Urshela led off the sixth inning by walking. Aaron Hicks flew out to left. Gary Sanchez lined out to left field. Frazier popped out to second base.  At the bottom, E. Rosario ground out to Torres. A Rosario walked. Perez flew out to Judge in right. Chang ground out for a fast inning for both teams. Yankees 5 Indians 3.

Cal Quantrill pitched the seventh for the Indians against Rougie Odor, who flew out to center field. LeMahieu grounded to short. Giancarlo Stanton, who hit two home runs in the game, struck out swinging. Darren O’Day on the mound, Gimenez led off by flying out to Judge. Luplow popped out to the infield. Hernandez ground out to end the inning. Yankees 5 Indians 3.

Judge led off the eight by flying out to center. Torres lined to second for the second out. Urshela also lined, driven to second to end the half. Ramirez led off the bottom against Chad Green, hit a base hit up the middle. Reyes hit into a double play. E. Rosario ground out to Torres to end the inning. Yankees 5 Indians 3.

Aaron Hicks led off the top of the ninth striking out. Gary Sanchez ground out to first for the second out. Frazier walked for the second time in the game; he was pinch-run by Mike Tauchman. Rougie Odor lined back to the pitcher. Aroldis Chapman was out in the bottom to close it out for the Yankees. A. Rosario ground out to second. Perez struck out, and Chang popped out to the catcher Sanchez.

The final score was 5-3. The winning pitcher was Lucas Luetge and the loser was Logan Allen.  Chapman got the save. The New York Yankees hit four home runs in the game.

New York Rangers keep Their Feint Playoff Hopes Alive

The New York Rangers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 4-1 victory of the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night. They moved back to six points behind the Boston Bruins, thanks to a Buffalo Sabres victory of the Bruins.

Alexandar Georgiev stopped 26 shots and improved to 8-5-2 on the season. He has allowed two goals or fewer in five of seven career appearances against the Flyers, including one goal or fewer in four of those games.

Chris Kreider opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 6:02 of the first period. It was his 11th power-play goal of the season, tying him for the most in the NHL.

Artemi Panarin had an assist on the Kreider goal, giving him his 100th career assist as a New York Ranger.

For Thursday night’s game, head coach David Quinn did some changing of the Blueshirts lines. One of the changes was to move Alexis Lafreniere up to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. That line was very effective as each player on that line contributed two points in the victory.

Buchnevich put the Rangers ahead 2-1 at 7:56 with his 20th, assisted by Lafreniere and Zibanejad. Lafreniere made it 3-1 at 9:24 of the third for his ninth of the season. Buchnevich and Zibanejad assisted. Zibanejad has seven goals and 10 assists this season against the Flyers, including two six-point games.

Filip Chytil completed the scoring with his eighth at 13:40, with assists to Kaapo Kakko and Panarin.

The New York Rangers rebound after a tough loss Thursday night.

“I’m just trying to learn every day at practice,” Lafreniere said in his post-game Zoom conference. “It’s fun to play with Mika and Buch and I just gotta learn from them and get better every day.”

“I thought we were a little more opportunistic,” Quinn said after the game. “I don’t think there was a big dip in our game, but the 5-on-3 kill was huge. That third goal really put us in a different mindset.”

The game was part of the “Garden of Dreams” night at MSG, a fundraising effort for that foundation. The Garden of Dreams Foundation is committed to helping children who are facing challenges such as homelessness, extreme poverty, illness, and foster care, and since it began in 2006.

The Rangers will play the Buffalo Sabres twice at MSG, on Sunday and Tuesday night.

 

 

 

 

Myles Powell returns to Knicks on a two-way contract

Former Seton Hall star Myles Powell has found his way back to New York.

On Friday, the Knicks announced that they had converted Jared Harper’s two-way contract into a 10-day contract to make a spot for Powell.

The undrafted Powell took Harper’s previous spot as one of the Knicks’ two-way players.

Powell was recently dropped by the Milwaukee Bucks, who signed him to a two-way deal after his solid G League campaign with the Westchester Knicks.

The Trenton, New Jersey native, averaged 17.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 steals with a 45/45/82 shooting splits in 28.1 minutes in 13 games with the Knicks’ G League affiliate team.

Powell was the 2019-20 Big East Player of the Year and was named to the First Team All-American. But he went undrafted, and the Knicks signed him to an exhibit 10 contract to join their training camp.

Harper is expected to sign a second 10-day contract which will make him part of the Knicks for the rest of the regular season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Julius Randle owes Knicks new regime: ‘They saved me’

new york knicks, tom thibodeau

Julius Randle had just one of the worst games of his career — eight points on 4-for-13 shooting in 27 minutes.

It was a nightmarish start to the Julius Randle era in New York as the Knicks plunged into a 1-6 record after a 113-92 beating at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. They trailed by as many as 32.

Randle expected it to be tough. He knew what he signed up for. But the pain hit him differently when his first season with the Knicks began to unravel.

The weight of the expectation that came with the $63 million worth of three-year contract he just signed a few months earlier is starting to pull him down.

On that night of November 3, 2019, the seed of what is shaping up to be one of the most memorable seasons in the Knicks’ franchise history was planted.

Randle was wallowing in pain in a restaurant somewhere in Manhattan. Then his phone rang. It was his agent, Aaron Mintz from the Creative Artists Agency.

Randle picked up the call. A few moments later, Mintz, along with his CAA associates Leon Rose and Wesley William, more famously known as ‘World Wide Wes,’ sat on the table listening to Randle’s ranting.

Kenny Payne, Randle’s coach and confidant at the University of Kentucky, was also there that night as the Wildcats were in town set to play the Michigan State University a couple of nights later in The Garden.

“They’re like picking me up because I was down,” Randle recalled that night on ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

They quizzed Randle.

The former Los Angeles Lakers lottery pick was already tired of losing. He hadn’t been to the playoffs in his first five years in the league up to that point.

“What is it that you see? What are you feeling? What’s going on?”

The season has just begun. But it felt like an exit interview.

Randle poured out his heart to Rose and co. He was complaining about a lot of things that’s been bothering him on his new team.

“Wes really took it to heart,” Randle said. “Honestly, they saved me.”

Four months later, Rose became the Knicks’ new team president. Wesley and Payne soon followed.

With that heart-to-heart talk back in November still fresh on Wesley’s mind, he called up Randle.

“What do you need to become an All-Star? What do you need to lead this team,” Wesley asked Randle.

“One of the things that I really told him is [that] I need a coach who will hold me accountable, a coach who will push me,” Randle said.

Enter Tom Thibodeau, a no-nonsense coach who has built a winning culture founded on accountability everywhere he went but whose reputation has been hit because of the same demanding, old-school style.

But Randle and Thibodeau hit it off. It was a match made in heaven. Thibodeau was effusive in his praise. Randle used the past season debacle as his fuel. He reported to Thibodeau’s minicamp with his motor running on fumes.

“I really think that’s where me and Thibs, from the very beginning, hit it off,” Randle said. “He saw how serious I am about my craft. I know that’s how he is. He’s serious about his craft. He loves basketball. I love basketball. I want to get better. I want to improve. I want to be coached.”

Then Randle turned from being New York’s most unwanted to most beloved. The city craved for a star. Randle became one.

All because of his maniacal work ethic that perfectly matched with Thibodeau’s demanding style and culture of accountability.

“For me, it’s about winning. In this league, you have a lot of freedom in certain situations. One of the things I did last summer when the season was over was to look at my tapes. I didn’t want to,” Randle said.

He begrudgingly watched his tapes last season. It was painful to watch. But it was the only way to effect real change. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

”You look and see you’re getting away with things that you shouldn’t get away with,” Randle said. “Or you’re not being coached the way you should be as far as pushing me. And that’s what I told Leon, and that’s what I told Wes — I want a coach that’s really going to hold us all accountable for every night that we stepped out there on the court, that winning is the most important thing.”

That’s Thibodeau’s tenet. Winning is everything.

“That’s really what this team is all about. That no matter what’s going on throughout the season, whatever it’s thrown at us — injuries, tough schedule — we always found a way to win.

Randle and the Knicks went through hell.

From the long nights where he heard boos every time his spin moves turned into turnovers to the best nights of his life hearing chants of M-V-P at The Garden, Randle has come a long way.

Fate has a funny way of writing destiny. And Randle can circle back to that one fateful night in November.

“It just really came full circle,” Randle said. A year ago, at that start of the season, it was tough. A lot of things in the league are about opportunity and that kind of stuff. It really came together — coaching, opportunity, and the team and how we believe in each other, and how Thibs has everybody buying in.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Should the New York Giants draft an EDGE in round one?

The 2021 NFL Draft is less than a week away and the New York Giants are one of the biggest question marks in round one. Analysts are struggling to predict the Giants’ pick at eleven overall. New York can go a multitude of different directions; edge rusher, cornerback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, etc. Everything is on the board for New York.

But the Giants have done extensive research on one position in particular: edge rusher. The Giants are in need of a top-tier pass-rusher off of the edge to upgrade over the rotational guys like Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Many believe that New York will address this need in round one of the 2021 NFL Draft. But should they?

First-round EDGE prospects

There are potentially four edge rushers that could be drafted in the first round of this year’s draft. The consensus top EDGE prospect is Jaelan Phillips out of Miami. Analysts explain that Phillips would be a top-ten pick in the draft if it weren’t for some medical red flags.

Jaelan Phillips has an extensive concussion history that caused him to retire for a year (2019) before returning to the field for Miami in 2020. Phillips recorded 8 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in his breakout 2020 season. He is projected to be drafted in the second half of the first round, but considering the Giants’ need for an EDGE, Phillips makes sense for them at eleven if they disregard the concussion history.

Kwity Paye and Azeez Ojulari are two more EDGE prospects that are expected to be drafted in the first round. Many believe that Paye is the best edge rusher in this year’s draft class. However, Paye is a much better run defender than edge rusher, making his fit with the Giants questionable. It is the speedy, bendy Azeez Ojulari that makes sense for the Giants.

The Giants are looking for a dominant pass-rusher, not a run-defender. Ojulari has the potential to be a top pass-rusher with his combination of speed and bend off the edge. Azeez is another player, though, that is projected to be drafted in the second half of the first round, like Paye and Phillips. Would it be too much of a reach for the Giants to select one of these edge rushers at eleven?

Is an EDGE at eleven a reach for the Giants?

Nearly all of the first-round edge rushers in this year’s class are projected to be late first-round picks. Some consider Jaelan Phillips to be the best defender in this year’s draft class, but his concussion history is bound to push him down the board. If all of these prospects are projected to go within the last fifteen picks of the first round, would the Giants be making a mistake selecting one of these prospects in the first fifteen picks of the round?

The Giants own the eleventh overall pick in this year’s draft. Technically, drafting an EDGE at eleven that is projected to be picked between picks twenty and thirty would be a reach. But this would be a case of the Giants drafting a talented player to fill a need, rather than going with the best player available.

If the New York Giants want to draft an edge rusher and maximize their value, they should trade down to the second half of the first round. This would allow the Giants to take one of these pass rushers in their projected draft range while also adding additional draft capital via trade. New York would walk away with its new every-down pass-rusher, addressing the biggest need the Giants have on defense. They would also acquire additional draft picks to add depth and address other positional needs later on in the draft.

Trading down is the best option for the Giants if they are dead set on taking an edge rusher. However, drafting one at eleven overall would not be the end of the world. The Giants would still be walking away from the first round as a better football team by upgrading a weak position with a young player possessing a ton of potential. Overall, many fans might want the Giants to avoid EDGE at eleven, but it might be the pick that brings New York the most impact in 2021.

NASCAR: Three drivers to watch in Sunday’s GEICO 500

On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the second restrictor-plate race of the season. The event will run 188 laps around the 2.66-mile circuit, totaling a 500-lap race. Coming off a second-place finish at Richmond last week, Denny Hamlin will lead the field to green with last week’s winner Alex Bowman rolling off fourth. Here are three drivers to watch in Sunday’s GEICO 500.

Michael McDowell (+5000)

Fresh off a Daytona 500 victory, Michael McDowell is one of the biggest names to watch this weekend. He’s always ran well in restrictor plate races, totaling 4 top-5s between Daytona and Talladega. McDowell finished fifth at Talladega in fall of 2019 and he always seems to run up front in restrictor plate races.

After three consecutive top-10s to open up the season, McDowell’s struggled of late. He hasn’t finished better than 12th since Homestead-Miami in February and has fallen to 9th in the playoff standins and 17th overall. Expect McDowell to get his dream season headed back in the right direction with a strong finish on Sunday.

Ryan Blaney (+800)

Ryan Blaney has proved himself as a strong restrictor plate racer of late. He’s won two of the last three races at Talladega and has two other top-10s to his name at the track. Additionally, Blaney has 4 top-10s at Daytona, including a second place finish in the 2020 Daytona 500.

Blaney’s gotten off to a strong start this season, winning at Atlanta and sitting fifth in points standings. He has just two other top-10s, however, stage points have boosted his points position. Blaney should have a good car on Sunday and should contend for the victory.

Aric Almirola (+1200)

Aric Almirola is one of the best restrictor plate racers in the sport, but he doesn’t have much to his name for it. His two Cup Series victories have both came at superspeedways, and he has a combined 12 top-10s between Talladega and Daytona. Most recently, Almirola won the fall race at Talladega in 2018, beating out teammate Clint Bowyer for the victory.

2021 has been a complete trainwreck for Almirola, and he’d like to turn things around on Sunday. Sitting 27th in points, Almirola finally picked up his first top-10 finish of the season last week at Richmond with a 6th place finish. The whole season will change for Almirola if he can pull out a victory on Sunday, and he should be in contention to do so.

 

Yankees’ hitting coach Marcus Thames analyzes some of the team’ slow starters

At this point, much has been written about the New York Yankees’ offensive struggles to open the 2021 season. They have been well-below average in several departments, including runs scored, wRC+, and WAR. Several of the team’s top hitters have been in prolonged slumps, such as Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, and others.

In a conversation with ESPN’s Marly Rivera, Yankees’ hitting coach Marcus Thames offered a few thoughts about some of the club’s coldest stars.

LeMahieu, who won the batting title last year with a .364 average, hasn’t actually been bad if we judge him by the most basic stats. He is hitting .275/.359/.377 with a 114 wRC+, but that’s a far cry from the .364/.421/.590 and 176 wRC+ he slashed in 2020.

“He’s trying to do too much,” Thames said about DJ LeMahieu‘s struggles at the plate to start the season. Part of LeMahieu’s issues is that his infield fly ball percentage (15.4%) is the highest of his career, and his 38.9 hard-hit rate is the lowest of his career at least in the Statcast era (since 2015.)

The Yankees expect more from LeMahieu, Gleyber and Stanton

When asked about Gleyber Torres’ diminished power (he only has two extra-base hits, with no homers), Thames said, “when you are chasing power, you chase pitches.” This problem was evident in the Yankees’ shortstop first at-bat on Thursday against Aaron Civale, but fortunately, he hit three singles after that. For Gleyber, the dingers will come.

Regarding Giancarlo Stanton, ‘and the difference between how he performed last postseason and the start of this season, Thames said that it’s all about his pitch selection,’ according to Rivera.

Stanton has punished some balls here or there, but overall, is slashing a meager .158/.238/.333 while striking out a third of the time. He will need to stop chasing and start looking for his pitch, and only then, the Yankees will have their stellar designated hitter all the way back.

Can Domingo German be a trustworthy starter for the Yankees?

New York Yankees, Domingo German

After everything that happened in the past, the New York Yankees decided to give pitcher Domingo German a second chance. He missed the whole 2020 season while serving a suspension for a domestic violence incident, but the team opted to move on after several apologies, public and private.

On the field, everything was going smoothly during spring training. He was missing bats with all of his pitches, and was destined to have a great start of the season for the Yankees. However, after two mediocre outings, he was optioned to the alternate training site because the team wouldn’t need a fifth starter for a while.

He returned and had a pretty rough beginning to his outing against Cleveland on Thursday, giving up three early runs, but settled down to earn a quality start by hurling six innings with three runs (two earned) and six strikeouts.

For the season, his ERA stands at 6.23, with a 5.79 FIP and a much more decent 4.31 xFIP.

The Yankees would like to see him command the fastball

For German, the key will be fastball command. He can get whiffs with his mid-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup, but it won’t matter if he keeps leaving pitches in the fat part of the zone.

The Yankees had him work on his fastball command during his time at the alternate training site and hope to see better results. Yesterday’s outing against Cleveland was a good start, as he retired the final seven hitters he faced after the rocky beginning.

“You’ve got to stay calm,” Germán said to MLB.com through an interpreter. “That’s what it’s all about, executing pitch after pitch to find your rhythm. I think it was key for me that I was able to get some quick outs. That allowed me to go deep into the game.”

The Yankees have a few options should German falter. Mike King has looked good, and Deivi Garcia is ready, for example. But they want German to succeed and claim the fifth spot for good, at least for now.

New York Yankees: Kyle Higashioka needs to remain in the lineup regularly

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

The New York Yankees have had plenty of offensive issues through 18 games, but they’ve had one guy that has consistently produced this season. It isn’t DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, or anyone else you’d typically think. Rather, it’s been backup catcher Kyle Higashioka making noise at the plate in 2021.

After going just 4-for-30 in Spring Training, many were concerned about what his offensive production would be this season. However, he’s been the best hitter on the Yankees in this early season. His play has taken some at-bats away from Gary Sanchez and has proven he deserves a regular spot in the lineup.

In nine games this season, Higashioka is 6-for-17 from the plate (.353) with an incredible 1.476 OPS. Five of his six hits have been for extra bases, and three of them were home runs. Higashioka also leads the team with a 0.7 WAR, the next closest being Aaron Judge at 0.4.

The Yankees have also felt his impacts on defense, as the pitching staff has a 2.67 ERA when Higashioka is behind the dish. Gary Sanchez’s ERA with pitchers is still solid at 3.67, but Higashioka’s number is extremely impressive. In comparison, the Philadelphia Phillies have a 4.17 team ERA, which is 15th in MLB.

The point being, Higashioka needs to remain in the lineup regularly for the New York Yankees. With all the offensive struggles, Higashioka’s been one of the few bright spots, and his two hits against Cleveland on Thursday were no exceptions.

However, it’ll take a little creativity to keep Higashioka in the lineup daily. Gary Sanchez certainly hasn’t been the Yankees’ worst hitter, so he still deserves plenty of at-bats. On the other hand, Clint Frazier has really struggled in left field and is seeing less playing time. Brett Gardner has struggled as well, so could we see Giancarlo Stanton get some starts in left field while having Sanchez DH and Higashioka catch?

We’ll see how Aaron Boone organizes the lineup in the coming days, but we should fully expect to see Higashioka play again on Saturday at the latest. Gerrit Cole pitches then, and he faces the reigning CY Young in Shane Bieber. That’ll be another great opportunity to pair the Cole — Higashioka duo together again, as you want your best against your opponent’s best.

Regardless of who the Yankees are pitching and who the team is facing, Kyle Higashioka needs more at-bats. His play has shown he deserves playing time and he’s been one of the few productive players on the Yankees to start the season.