Holiday, Celebrate: Sixers Sign on for Four More Years With Jrue

Holiday, Celebrate: Sixers Sign on for Four More Years With Jrue

When last night's game against the Nuggets came and went without news of
a contract extension for the Sixers' starting fourth-year point guard
Jrue Holiday, with Oct. 31st being the deadline for '09 draftee
extensions, it looked all but sure that Jrue would head to restricted
free agency next summer to seek the max contract he had reportedly been
asking. However, it appears team and player put their heads together
after the season-opening win and came to an agreement: A four-year,
$41-million deal with another five million being rumored in
"incentives," whatever that means.

Personally, I'm elated. First
and perhaps foremost, just because they've settled the issue and it
doesn't have to hang over the team all season, with everyone (especially
us) worrying about whether Jrue was playing himself into big money, or
playing himself out of a contract. Secondly, in today's NBA, four for
$41 is a very reasonable amount for a top 15 point guard yet to even
enter his prime, especially considering that the far-more-unproven DeMar
DeRozan of the Raptors signed for four and $38 just hours before.
(Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson of the Warriors and Nugs respectively both
got a little more, but their stats in the league have been superior to
Jrue's thusfar, so fair enough.) Considering Jrue was said to be looking
for a max deal (four years at roughly $15 mil), this could've been a
LOT worse.

It's also exciting because it means the team is
investing in Jrue as a critical part of their future. After three years
of reluctance to give the Damaja the ball and let him run with it, Coach
Collins and GM Tony DiLeo finally seem ready, with the trade of Andre
Iguodala and the goodbye-wave to Lou Williams, to make the leap of
faith. The game last night probably didn't have a huge impact on their
decision, but it was a good example of how even though Jrue has a long
way to go, he is at trustable team leader, both in getting his teammates
involved and making big plays in the game's key moments.

Of
course, making this kind of commitment to Jrue means that the team will
have further difficult decisions to make regarding the remainder of
their roster, and as Michael Levin of LIberty Ballers rightly points out,
with Holiday's agreement and a likely extension for Andrew Bynum, it'll
be tough to pay big money to surrounding wings, which could mean
trouble for Evan Turner's future in Philadelphia if his play this year
doesn't merit a similar level of extension. With Thad and Jrue locked in
for sizable contracts, the team doesn't get to swing and miss on any
more from here if they expect to contend at all in the next few years.

Still,
these are issues for another day. Today, with a home victory over a
likely playoff team and a reasonably priced extension for one of our
core players, is a happy day. Let the Damaja-ing ensue.

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

An impressive year for the Phillies' farm system continued this week with the promotions of two of their second base prospects, Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery. Valentin replaced Taylor Featherston at Triple A when Featherston took Andres Blanco's spot on the Phils' roster, and Kingery replaced Valentin at Double A.

Valentin is a former first-round pick and Kingery was the Phils' second-rounder in 2015. It's a good sign for the organization that even their second-tier prospects are advancing up the chain.

But in this last Future Phillies Report before the non-waiver trade deadline, let's take a look at how the Phils' most intriguing prospects have been performing lately.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams' call-up could be coming soon. He continues to hit, he continues to show power, and he's even reduced his strikeout rate lately.

Williams has punched out just nine times in his last 17 games, a span of 67 plate appearances. He has 90 K's on the season in 395 plate appearances, which really isn't that egregiously high of a strikeout rate. Still, the Phillies wanted to see less swing-and-miss from him and lately he's obliged.

Williams' power was slow to emerge this season as he was playing in the coldest conditions of his life, but things changed right around the second week of May. Over his last 70 games, Williams has hit .289 with a .489 slugging percentage, hitting 26 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. His run production has increased each month.

Defensively, Williams has been playing a lot of left field lately. It makes sense because that's the position he is most likely to play when he's called up to the majors. Odubel Herrera is in center field for the Phillies and Aaron Altherr will be the regular rightfielder the final two months. And so 15 of Williams' last 26 games have been in left field.

He has the defensive ability to play all three outfield spots, but Williams likes center field the most, saying the various routes a CF takes make him feel like more of an athlete than he does in the corner outfield. 

But it's his bat more than anything else that has gotten Williams this far in his pro career. He's knocking on the door to the majors and should be added to the 40-man roster soon.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford has slowed a bit after a month-long hot streak, going 6 for 36, all singles, in his last 10 games. He's hitting .261/.336/.346 through 60 games at Triple A and .262/.360/.362 in 96 total games this season.

Defensively, Crawford has not been as sound over the last few weeks, committing six errors in his last 20 games after having just two in his first 40 at Triple A. 

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said earlier this week that it wasn't a consideration to bring up Crawford when Blanco got hurt. That may frustrate some Phillies fans, but there's just no need to rush him to the majors while he's not hitting. The Phils have to be confident that when they're ready to promote these guys — Crawford, Williams, Jake Thompson — that they're ready to hit the ground running and stick in The Show. So far, Crawford has held his own at Triple A but hasn't dominated. And that's no big deal considering he's 5.6 years younger than the average age in the International League.

Crawford could see some time with the Phils in September. But he's not going to be handed any sort of job just because he's long been considered a top prospect. The fact remains that at the minors' two highest levels, Crawford has hit .264/.357/.384. He's yet to truly break out the way most top-five prospects do. 

SP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson wasn't going to stay perfect forever and his ridiculous run of four earned runs in 62⅓ innings ended in his last start Tuesday. Thompson gave up three runs in the first inning and five in five innings, but still got the win thanks to a big offensive night from the IronPigs.

Through 20 starts at Triple A, Thompson is 10-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. A good sign was that even in defeat, eight of 10 balls put into play against Thompson were groundballs. Over his last 10 starts, Thompson has a 1.20 ERA and a groundball rate of 51 percent. 

That one misstep will not change the Phillies' opinions about Thompson's readiness for a call-up. All that is standing in the way is Jeremy Hellickson, who could very well be traded by the Aug. 1 deadline. 

And even if Hellickson isn't dealt, it would not be at all surprising to see the Phillies go to a six-man rotation at some point in mid-to-late August to keep their young pitchers' innings in check. Aaron Nola is on pace for 167, which isn't too bad. But Jerad Eickhoff is on pace for 200, which is a bit much in his first full season. Vince Velasquez is on pace for 20 more innings than he's ever thrown.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn is back on the field after missing seven weeks with an oblique injury. He began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League and went 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs in two games. 

The Phillies are hoping Quinn can stay healthy for the remainder of the season because this was another year in which he lost valuable at-bats. Quinn has never played in more than 88 games in a season, which must be frustrating for such a talented and versatile player. Quinn is a switch-hitter who has the best speed and CF defense in the Phillies' farm system and also has deceptive power. 

Look for him to play some winter ball to make up for some of that lost time. Quinn played 25 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2015. 

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
The Phillies' first overall pick has performed as advertised so far, hitting .321/.389/.429 in 95 plate appearances in Rookie ball. The Phillies saw Moniak as a high-floor, high-ceiling high school bat, saying that he was safer than many of the top college hitters available in the draft. 

He may never hit for power, but he's quickly translated his hit tool from the California HS circuit to the minors' lowest level.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro had a four-hit night with three RBIs Wednesday to raise his season batting line to .295/.333/.480. It's been a great first year in the Phillies' system for the powerful catcher, who has proven he can stay on the field, playing pretty much every day since May 7.

Alfaro hasn't gotten as hot as he was to start the year, when he went 18 for 36 with six extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his first eight games, but he's also avoided lengthy slumps. He's spent much of the season with a batting average hovering around .300, which is a good sign considering that tool is behind his raw power and arm. There seems to be a near consensus that Alfaro can, in a few years, be a catcher who controls the running game and hits 20 to 25 home runs. If he can do that with a high batting average as well, you'll be looking at one of the game's most valuable pieces.

Alfaro is already on the 40-man roster, so he could see some time in the majors in September even though he's yet to play at Triple A.

OF Dylan Cozens, 1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins has 29 homers and 92 RBIs. Cozens has 26 and 88. Both are going to reach 30 and 100, barring unforeseen circumstances. Those are the kind of numbers that get you noticed and promoted, even if you have glaring weaknesses, too.

For both players, that weakness is a penchant to swing and miss. Cozens has 124 K's in 376 at-bats, essentially one every three ABs. Hoskins' rate isn't quite as high — he's pretty much in line with Williams.

Hoskins is the older of the two and will be 24 next March. The expectation is that both will get invites to big-league camp, and if Hoskins really stands out, perhaps he battles with Tommy Joseph for everyday 1B duty next season. The Phils are going to want to see sooner rather than later what they have in Hoskins. If he's called up next season, he'd be the same age Joseph was when the Phils promoted him.

RHP Jimmy Cordero (AA)
The hard-throwing right-handed reliever acquired by the Phillies from the Blue Jays in last summer's Ben Revere trade was promoted to Double A Reading earlier this week after pitching eight games with High A Clearwater.

Cordero missed the first three months of the season with an arm injury but has made 11 appearances since July 1. He's shown some rust, allowing seven runs and walking seven in 13⅔ innings to go along with 12 strikeouts.

Because he is already on the 40-man roster like Alfaro, the Phils could take a look at Cordero in September even though he hasn't pitched much this season.

The Phillies have stockpiled a lot of prospects over the last two years and the often overlooked position group in all of that has been relief arms. With Cordero, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano (acquired with Valentin from the Dodgers for Roberto Hernandez in August 2014), the Phils are hoping to build a late relief corps that can rack up strikeouts. Arano has a 2.40 ERA with 68 K's in 60 innings this season at Clearwater.

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

Some scouts and draftniks were surprised Myke Tavarres' name had not been called after the dust settled and all seven rounds were complete in May's NFL draft. At that point, the Eagles weren't about to let a potential diamond in the rough show up on another club's 90-man roster.

The Eagles reportedly gave Tavarres $95,000 in guaranteed money to sign, one of the highest sums awarded to an undrafted free agent in the NFL in 2016, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Linebacker is a position of need for one thing, so much so there's an excellent chance a lesser-known prospect out of an FCS program like the University of Incarnate Word has an excellent shot at making the team.

Yet Tavarres is an impressive individual as well, both as an athlete and a person. You can learn a lot about his character based alone on the mantra he has tattooed on his arm.

"In high school I used to wrestle, and my coach before every big match, he would read me this quote, and this quote has gotten me through everything," Tavarres said at training camp this week. "It says, 'If you do not try, then you do not do, and if you do not do, then why are you here?' Pretty self explanatory."

And while Tavarres is serious about playing football, it's clear he has his priorities straight. While he declined to get into why exactly he transferred from Arkansas to Incarnate Word after one season, it certainly wasn't because he worried about being drafted or a career in the NFL at the time. It was what he felt was best for him.

"I actually had a close friend that played corner out there," Tavarres said, "and he said, 'You'd love it out here, the coaches are pretty relaxed. It'll be a good opportunity for you to go out there and just have fun and play the game.' So after that I decided to go there.

"Honestly, I wasn't even worried about the NFL when I got to Incarnate Word. I was more focused on getting my degree, finishing school. Then toward the middle of the season, they were like, 'Hey, you've got a pretty good shot to play in the NFL.' After that, I was like, 'Alright, let's go ahead and go for it.'"

It's also telling of his personality what Tavarres' attitude is toward going undrafted.

"I'm not too upset and I wasn't really that worried," he said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity somewhere, and that's all I ever asked for was an opportunity."

As impressive as his determination is, you can learn a lot about Tavarres' physical ability just from looking at the numbers, too. As a senior — his only season with the program — he posted 110 tackles, 22½ tackles for loss and 8½ sacks. He was so versatile, he even saw a limited number of touches as a running back and kickoff returner.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tavarres also mentions he actually came into camp up to 240, not to mention he might be even faster than people think. At least he claims a trick of the stopwatch may have caused a sizable discrepancy in his 40-yard dash time compared to what is on the books from his pro day.

"It was a 4.7, but," Tavarress said, "realistically I found out after I was running, I moved my hand before I started running, and what my trainer and my agent had was a 4.4."

Not that he ascribes too much importance to the actual time anyway.

"People spend so much time worrying about 40-this, 40-that," he said. "If you can play ball, you can play ball."

The challenge now for Tavarres is picking up a defense he's never played in before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also says that's part of what attracted him to the Eagles. While he was used primarily as a pass-rusher in college, Tavarres believes his skillset is better suited for playing linebacker in a 4-3.

So far, Tavarres feels the most comfortable at strongside, where his speed and strength are valuable attributes for covering tight ends.

"It's been a lot harder for me than it would be for most guys because they've all played in a 4-3 scheme," Tavarres said. "I played in a 3-2, which is pretty much just a standard defensive end rushing the passer, so it's all been relatively new to me, but I'm adjusting and acclimating as much as I can.

"For a linebacker like me, I can play side-to-side, so that would be really good for me. That was really the most reason why I decided to come here."

The Eagles' lack of depth at linebacker didn't hurt either. Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham seem set as the starters, but the only backups with NFL experience currently on the roster are Najee Goode and Deonate Skinner. That leaves seventh-round pick Joe Walker, Tavarres and fellow undrafted rookies Quentin Guase and Don Cherry likely competing for at least one, possibly two spots.

All Tavarres wanted was an opportunity, and he has one here. He's also confident he knows what he has to do to take advantage of what's in front of him and make the 53-man roster.

"Hard work. Dedication. Special teams," Tavarres said, with the latter being what he hopes will help set him apart.

"My goal on every single special teams play is to be the first one down there and not just to get down there, but make the play, make the tackle."

Obviously, special teams will be a huge factor in the Eagles' decision, although the organization may have tipped its hand a bit with the nice bonus it paid Tavarres as far as what it thinks of his chances. Undeniably a bit raw, he has the talent and right attitude to play at the next level, which makes for one intriguing prospect to watch this summer.

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Blake Countess had three eyes on Wednesday.

The first two were under his helmet, scanning the field in anticipation of throws coming from fellow rookie Carson Wentz.

The third was on top of his helmet.

The rookie safety wore a small cylindrical camera, about the width of a silver dollar, on the top left of his helmet — just above the Eagles’ logo — during the third practice of training camp. The footage from the camera will give the team a different vantage point while looking at practice film.

“Technology, you can't stay up fast enough with it,” head coach Doug Pederson said after practice. “Those are great devices to have. In fact, we used them in Kansas City with the quarterbacks. We've had them on their helmets before.

“It gives you an opportunity to kind of see from the players' vantage point where they're looking, where their eyes are. Are they in the right direction? Are they on the right reads? And defensively are [they] in the right spots? And then you can evaluate and help correct the player.”

On Wednesday, Countess was the only player wearing the camera, but the rookie said the team plans on using them more, eventually for receivers and quarterbacks.

How can it help Countess to get better?

“Eye progressions, just seeing where I’m looking at and being more disciplined with my eyes,” the sixth-round pick said. “Throughout the play, if your eyes are bad, you’re probably going to get beat, especially as a defensive back.”

Pederson said sometimes the helmet cams give back some shaky video, so using it on Countess was a test of sorts.

But the Chiefs used them for their quarterbacks and if the feedback from this preliminary camera is good, the Eagles might put them on the helmets of their quarterbacks soon.

“The thing is, too, with technology,” Pederson said, “if it helps you win football games, I'm all for it.”

As for Countess, the team told him about the camera on Tuesday and when he got into the locker room on Wednesday, there it was, attached to his helmet.

Why did they pick him?

“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I wish I knew.”