Every MLB Team’s Potential Breakout Star in 2019

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Whether you favor Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or someone else, you know who the big stars are in Major League Baseball. And good news! They’ll be there again in 2019.

    But this isn’t about them. It’s about the next wave of stars about to crash over MLB.

    We’ve pinpointed one potential breakout player for each of MLB’s 30 teams. These are guys who haven’t been All-Stars or major award winners. They otherwise fit a wide variety of descriptions—prospect, former prospect, heretofore serviceable veteran, etc.—but what ties them together is talent that hasn’t yet peaked.

    We’ll go in alphabetical order by city.

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    With Paul Goldschmidt gone, the Arizona Diamondbacks will need a new leader for their lineup in 2019. Ketel Marte may be just the fella.

    Marte wasn’t considered much of a prospect when he broke in with the Seattle Mariners back in 2015, and he’s had at least as many downs as ups in four seasons since then. He’s still only 25, however, and he was last seen with serious helium.

    After a slow start to 2018, Marte rebounded with a .277/.353/.483 slash line and 13 home runs from May 9 through the end of the year. On the whole, 2018 was a season in which he made progress with his strike zone discipline, contact rate and power output.

    Marte’s bat alone could become an All-Star-caliber quality if he keeps that up in 2019. Moreover, there’s a decent chance that a move to center field will provide greater exposure for his athleticism.

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    Scot Tucker/Associated Press

    A breakout star on the Atlanta Braves? Man, pick one. They’re as rich in young cornerstones and up-and-coming prospects as any team in MLB.

    But even if we may regret it later, we’re going to put the spotlight on A.J. Minter.

    For now, the 25-year-old reliever may be most famous for looking uncannily like a left-handed Craig Kimbrel. Another commonality he shares with Kimbrel is a mid-to-high 90s fastball as the basis for his arsenal.

    However, Minter also packs a filthy cutter, and he was mixing in a changeup by the end of 2018. Factor in steadily improving control, and even the 3.23 ERA and rate of 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings he put up don’t do his potential justice.

    Minter’s talent is begging for the kind of exposure that’s typically reserved for closers. Lucky for him, Atlanta’s ninth-inning situation is begging for a solid solution for 2019.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The 2019 Baltimore Orioles could be even worse than the iteration that racked up 115 losses in 2018. When it comes to exciting talent, there’s not a lot of it.

    As wild cards go, however, Tanner Scott isn’t so bad.

    If nothing else, the 24-year-old lefty has an explosive fastball. His heater averaged 97.1 mph in 2018. Among qualified southpaw relievers, only Aroldis Chapman, Felipe Vazquez and Jose Alvarado did better.

    Throughout both his minor league (6.6 walks per nine innings) and major league (4.9 BB/9) careers, Scott’s problem has been controlling the ball. But as he shifted his position on the rubber throughout 2018, some stability did materialize toward the end of the year. His reward was a strong finish after August 18.

    Any more of that, and Scott may emerge as a closer candidate in 2019. That’ll do for a silver lining in Baltimore.

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    The hype was real when the Boston Red Sox called Rafael Devers up in July 2017. The early returns (.819 OPS and 10 homers) were highly encouraging, but Devers disappointed as a sophomore in 2018.

    Good thing he’s still only 22, not to mention supremely talented.

    Devers has impressive all-fields power for such a young player. Whether he can tap into that consistently hinges on him toning down an approach that’s been overly aggressive. To this end, it’s encouraging that his swing rate took a nosedive at the end of 2018. That and a healthy shoulder coincided with a strong late-season surge, followed by some heroic moments in Boston’s World Series run.

    In light of his poor defensive metrics, the Red Sox need Devers’ bat to carry him at third base. That’ll happen if he keeps his OPS above .800 while providing 25-plus homers per year, which he can start as soon as 2019.

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Ian Happ was in the same boat as Devers going into 2018. He initially lived up to the hype after the Chicago Cubs called him up in May 2017, but he struggled to get on track in his first full season.

    Happ, 24, also finished worse than he started. He had his OPS over .840 as late as July 24. From then on, he slumped with a .607 OPS and a 37.7 strikeout rate. He was simply swinging through too many fastballs.

    Still, Happ did tighten up his zone discipline and make more frequent hard contact in 2018. If he can stop swinging through so many fastballs, carrying those trends over into 2019 should help get him closer to his rookie performance: an .842 OPS and 24 homers in 115 games.

    Or so the Cubs hope, anyway, because Happ is only one guy they need more out of this year.

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Eloy Jimenez begins 2019 as the No. 3 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. He should join the Chicago White Sox as soon as they stop playing the service time game in mid-April.

    They’ll be greeting a 22-year-old who’s dominated at every level he’s played at since 2016. Some highlights include a .961 OPS and 22 homers across Double-A and Triple-A in 2018 and literal light-tower power in the Carolina League’s 2017 home run derby.

    What separates Jimenez from other slugging prospects is his acumen for hitting. Though he hasn’t posted ridiculous walk rates, he’s typically avoided high strikeout rates. He’s less Joey Gallo and more Nelson Cruz.

    Jimenez’s bat will need to work, because he’s not going to get far on his glove. Luckily for the White Sox, his bat may contain one of the best slugging seasons ever by a rookie.

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Nick Senzel is the Cincinnati Reds’ answer to Jimenez. He’s coming off a broken finger, however, and there isn’t a clear avenue to playing time for him on the Reds’ veteran-laden roster.

    Therefore, we side with Luis Castillo as Cincinnati’s more immediate breakout candidate. 

    Granted, we thought the same thing heading into 2018, only to watch Castillo largely struggle through his first full season. He did finish strong, though, posting a 2.63 ERA in 14 starts after July 1.

    According to Castillo himself, per MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, the difference was in learning to trust his stuff. That was most evident in the increased use of his excellent changeup in August and September. Of course, the 26-year-old’s fastball also picked up some serious steam toward the end.

    Any more of that, and Castillo could find himself pitching in his first All-Star Game in July.

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    In light of the talented players they’ve lost this winter, the Cleveland Indians are going to need something extra from their incumbents in 2019. To that end, Shane Bieber is a fascinating case.

    Cleveland drafted Bieber in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but his excellent command allowed him to rise quickly for his major league debut last May. Then a wall seemed to hit him, as he put up a pedestrian 4.55 ERA in 114.2 innings.

    Yet, the 23-year-old struck out (118) five times as many batters as he walked (23), and he only allowed 13 homers. Such numbers raise the suspicion of bad luck. Statcast’s xwOBA metric—based on quality of contact—would seem to confirm that was the case.

    Besides which, what’s not to like about a command artist with a 93.1 mph fastball and a slider, curveball and changeup in his back pocket? Nothing. That’s what.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Colorado Rockies offense didn’t have much outside of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon in 2018. It showed when they went on the road, where they had a .665 OPS.

    Daniel Murphy should help fix that in 2019, but perhaps not as much as David Dahl.

    Dahl was a top-10 draft pick all the way back in 2012. He was a generally well-regarded prospect in ensuing years, but the injury bug just wouldn’t leave him alone. Even after he broke in with the Rockies in 2016, a stress reaction in his rib sidelined him for all of 2017.

    But as a general rule, Dahl hits when he’s healthy. So it went late in 2018 after he’d recovered from a broken foot, as he finished with an .897 OPS over 45 games. At work there is an all-fields, line-drive-oriented stroke that’s perfect for exploiting Coors Field’s wide gaps, and which could make Dahl an All-Star.

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Christin Stewart might prove to be the first major fruit harvested from the Detroit Tigers farm during their rebuild.

    The 25-year-old has never appeared in any season-opening top 100s, mainly because he’s always been limited in what he can do. He can’t field. He can’t run. He can only hit.

    Fortunately for the Tigers, that’s something he does well. Stewart racked up 83 homers in the minors between 2016 and 2018. No less important is how he narrowed the gap between his walk (13.9 BB%) and strikeout (20.7 K%) rates in 122 games with Triple-A Toledo in 2018.

    Though Stewart’s power can’t be described as “booming,” there’s enough there for a 25-homer season right out of the gate in 2019. That plus a consistent approach could make him the best hitter in a Detroit lineup that can no longer revolve around Miguel Cabrera.

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    He may be MLB.com’s No. 5 prospect, but 21-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker met his match when the Houston Astros promoted him to The Show in 2018. Further development is in order for him.

    This should mean more eyes on Josh James.

    There wasn’t much to say about the 25-year-old righty as recently as 2017, but then came a 3.23 ERA and a 13.5 K/9 in 23 outings at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He then arrived in the majors and flashed a fastball that averaged 97.1 mph and got as high as 101 mph. His slider and changeup impressed, too.

    The catch is that James’ command is somewhere below Bieber’s in quality. But with stuff like his, he can survive as a regular in Houston’s rotation despite that. Should a late addition force him to the bullpen, he could be even more dominant pitching in short stints.

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    As of now, Adalberto Mondesi might be most famous for being Raul Mondesi’s son or for being the first player ever to make his major league debut in the World Series.

    This should change in 2019.

    Though Mondesi is a couple years removed from being a top prospect, he’s only 23 and coming into his own in a hurry. He started pushing Alcides Escobar for playing time at shortstop with the Kansas City Royals last June. When the year ended, he had put up an .804 OPS with 14 homers and 32 stolen bases in 75 games.

    Though Mondesi is a free-swinging type, his hard contact rate exploded in 2018 anyway. More of that will keep his slugging percentage high and his on-base percentage high enough to keep the steals coming. Otherwise, he can also play a good shortstop.

    Though the AL is already teeming with All-Star-caliber shortstops, it had better make room for one more.

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Angels have three 20-something starting pitchers—Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Jaime Barria—who could take top billing here. But from afar, they appear no better than “fine.”

    The spotlight is thus on Ty Buttrey, who the Angels picked up in the trade that sent Ian Kinsler to Boston in August. He was pitching for them not long after, and he pitched well with a 3.31 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 16.1 innings.

    The 25-year-old righty works off a fastball that sits at 96 mph and climbs as high as 100 mph, and mixes in a slider and changeup. Albeit in a very small sample, his weapons had elite bat-missing ability even within the strike zone.

    That’s about as telling a mark for a dominant closer as anyone could ask for. If Buttrey keeps it up, he’ll ensure the Angels won the Kinsler trade.

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    Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    With Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp out of the picture, there’s room in the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield for an unusual suspect to own the stage.

    That means you, Alex Verdugo.

    The 22-year-old has been a strong presence in top prospect lists over the last two years, and it’s easy to see why. He’s put up a .321/.389/.452 line in 208 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, with barely more strikeouts (97) than walks (86). These are the marks of a natural-born hitter.

    If there’s a concern with Verdugo, it’s what Baseball America calls an “indifferent attitude” that’s plagued him on defense and on the basepaths. If he doesn’t get that squared away, he may not be long for the Dodgers.

    For now, however, he appears locked into regular action in right field. With little left to prove in the minors, he should know not to sabotage his best chance yet at major league stardom.

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The Miami Marlins are probably putting all their hopes in young center fielder Lewis Brinson to be their big breakout star in 2019. Trouble is, his hitting approach needs a lot of work.

    Tayron Guerrero is no work of art in his own right, but he at least has one vital ingredient for becoming a shutdown reliever: heat. 

    The 28-year-old righty averaged 98.8 mph with his fastball in 2018 and even got it up to 104 mph on one occasion. Only he, Chapman and Jordan Hicks explored the territory above 102 mph more than once.

    Guerrero nonetheless finished with a modest 5.43 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 2018. He particularly struggled when he for some reason drastically reduced his fastball usage.

    That could either be a warning or a blip. We’ll put our chips on the latter and trust that Guerrero’s fastball will ultimately pave the way to Miami’s closer role.

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    Pool/Getty Images

    Of the young right-handed trio of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, only Woodruff seems ticketed for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Opening Day rotation.

    That’s either because he’s the only one who’s gone yard off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, or because he’s the closest to realizing his potential as a star.

    Though the 25-year-old pitched mostly in relief for the Brewers in 2018, he was no ordinary reliever. He regularly pitched multiple innings, culminating in a strong 5.1-inning effort in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

    All the while, Woodruff flashed a mid-90s fastball with a sharp slider and changeup. Even if he needs to dial it back in a full-time starting role, his command is such that he shouldn’t need to overpower hitters all the time.

    Failing that, he can always fall back on a role as a dominant multi-inning reliever.

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Perhaps this is wishful thinking on behalf of every baseball fan’s favorite large adult son. Or, perhaps the Minnesota Twins really do have something in Willians Astudillo.

    Astudillo’s major league debut in May 2018 came at the end of a nine-year journey through the minor leagues. All the while, he was a curiosity for how he almost always put the ball in play. In 2,461 total plate appearances, he drew only 85 walks (3.5 BB%) and struck out 81 times (3.3 K%).

    So it went for Astudillo in the majors, as he collected only two walks and three strikeouts in 29 games for the Twins. He also hit .355 with an .887 OPS, thereby teasing that his unique approach might actually work at the highest level.

    Did we mention that Astudillo is also a primary catcher who can fill in at every other position on the diamond? Because that’s a thing with him, too. He’s an unpredictable defender, to boot, and he runs well for a self-professed “chubby” guy.

    The 27-year-old was last seen pimping the ever-loving heck out of a home run in the Venezuelan Winter League. That might not be an omen…but, nah, it’s probably an omen.

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    This is kinda-sorta-cheating. After all, Zack Wheeler is coming off a 2018 season in which he notched a career-best 3.31 ERA over 182.1 innings. It’s hard to break out any more than that.

    Trust us. He can do it.

    As great as Wheeler was in 2018, the really good stuff didn’t come until the second half, when he finished with a 1.68 ERA and permitted just a .489 OPS in 11 starts.

    His fastball velocity was peaking around then, and his slider, curveball and splitter were practically equal partners among his secondary offerings. More subtly, he took a cue from Jacob deGrom and got a lot better at disguising the release points and flight paths of his pitches. The effect could be devastating.

    Never mind just All-Star potential. If Wheeler picks up where he left off, he might even make a run at the NL Cy Young Award.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees don’t have many players who aren’t already established stars, so we’re going to go in a slightly different direction and posit that Luke Voit is for real.

    The Yankees picked Voit up from the St. Louis Cardinals last July for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. He seemed to be little more than a depth piece, but then came an astonishing 39-game stretch in which he slashed .333/.409/.689 with 14 long balls.

    That was a surprising amount of power for a guy who’d hit only 65 homers in six minor league seasons. Voit, 27, credited it to natural evolution of both his approach and his swing. He did indeed show good zone discipline, and he generated more fly balls with power to all fields.

    It’s a bit much to expect Voit to carry on as one of MLB’s best hitters, but he should stand out in a relatively weak crop of American League first basemen.

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Presently, the Oakland A’s rotation is Mike Fiers and a bunch of question marks. They do have an ace in the hole, though, and his name is Jesus Luzardo.

    “I think Jesus is going to come into spring training and be a factor,” A’s general manager David Forst said last October, per Ben Ross of NBC Sports Bay Area. “I don’t think we have to hide that.”

    Beyond being Oakland’s best prospect, Luzardo is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Though he’s only 21, he displays advanced command of a mid-90s fastball, a fading changeup and an above-average curveball.

    Luzardo advanced from High-A to Triple-A in 2018, his first full professional season. He finished with a 2.88 ERA and four times as many strikeouts (129) as walks (30) in 109.1 innings. Once he joins the A’s in 2019, he can get to work on an AL Rookie of the Year campaign.

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    There’s been some talk this winter about whether the Philadelphia Phillies should be looking for a catcher, but general manager Matt Klentak is content with Jorge Alfaro.

    “I think what Jorge showed last year was incredible growth for a first-year catcher, both on the offensive side and the defensive side,” Klentak told Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer in December.

    The 25-year-old did have some growing pains in his first full major league season 2018. He put up a modest .731 OPS with 10 homers, and he led the NL with 10 passed balls.

    Even despite those passed balls, however, Baseball Prospectus’ metrics rated Alfaro as a top-five defensive catcher. He also cut way back on his strikeouts as the season wore on, which contributed to a strong .788 second-half OPS.

    If Alfaro carries on in this fashion in 2019, he can throw his name into the best catcher in baseball discussion.

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Jameson Taillon is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ answer to Wheeler. He was darn good in 2018, but he can do even better in 2019.

    Though the 27-year-old put up a 3.20 ERA over 191 innings last season, he didn’t really take off until May 27. That’s when he kicked off a 22-start stretch highlighted by a 2.71 ERA with 131 strikeouts and 30 walks in 139.2 innings.

    That fateful date is when Taillon made a slider a featured part of his arsenal, alongside a 95.2 mph fastball and a sharp curveball. Though he seemed to pull that slider out of thin air, you’d never know it from looking at it

    Taillon’s next trick might be to break out a reliable changeup, a pitch that has thus far proven difficult for him to master. Even if he fails to do so, however, he’s a potential All-Star and Cy Young Award contender.

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The San Diego Padres are teeming with 20-somethings with star potential, but the best has yet to arrive. That’ll happen when the Padres call up Fernando Tatis Jr. to play shortstop.

    Tatis was a 17-year-old with a recognizable name—his old man spent 11 years in the majors—when the Padres acquired him from the White Sox for James Shields in 2016. He’s since blossomed into MLB.com’s No. 2 prospect with back-to-back excellent seasons in the minors. 

    Though there’s plenty of swing-and-miss in Tatis’ offensive game, he makes up for it with a feel for the barrel that’s produced a .280 career batting average and 38 homers since 2017. He’s also a highlight machine on defense.

    Tatis, now 20, has only advanced as far as Double-A San Antonio, but his major league debut isn’t far off. The sooner he arrives, the sooner he can make a run at the NL Rookie of the Year.

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Steven Duggar and Chris Shaw will get their shot to settle as regulars in the San Francisco Giants outfield, but neither will become a star until he stops swinging and missing so much.

    We thus find ourselves looking at another son of a famous father: Dereck Rodriguez.

    Ivan Rodriguez’s 26-year-old son was originally drafted as an outfielder by the Minnesota Twins in 2011. He converted to a pitcher in 2014, and he finally made his major league debut last May. What followed was a 2.81 ERA over 118.1 innings.

    Rodriguez’s trick was to use a diverse repertoire of pitches to stifle dangerous contact. He ranked seventh in xwOBA on batted balls, in between Miles Mikolas and Carlos Martinez. His next challenge is improving his strikeout rate, which finished at a modest 6.8 per nine innings in 2018.

    That ought to be doable with his stuff, and he’ll be deserving of All-Star attention if he gets it done.

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    Hamish Blair/Getty Images

    It’s debatable whether a guy who’s already been a star in Japan really has any more breaking out to do.

    But since this is an excuse to sing Yusei Kikuchi’s praises, well, why not take it?

    The Seibu Lions posted the 27-year-old lefty in December, and he signed with the Seattle Mariners about a month later. He wouldn’t seem to have the same upside as fellow imports Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, but his stuff should play in the majors.

    The most hopeful sign is what Kikuchi did in 2017. He put up a 1.97 ERA with 217 strikeouts and 49 walks in 187.2 innings. His stuff—namely a low-to-mid 90s heater and a sharp slider—was popping that year.

    No thanks to some trouble with his left shoulder, Kikuchi slipped a bit in 2018. Provided his shoulder is back in shipshape for 2019, a run at the AL Rookie of the Year is in the cards.

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Only five rookie pitchers have ever logged over 150 innings and struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings: Kerry Wood, Dwight Gooden, Hideo Nomo, Darvish and the guy pictured above.

    The Cardinals drafted Jack Flaherty at the end of the first round in 2014. He spent his first couple professional seasons in Alex Reyes’ shadow, but he was was finally a consensus top-100 prospect going into 2018. He ultimately helped stabilize St. Louis’ rotation with a 3.34 ERA in 28 starts.

    Flaherty worked off a fastball that sat at 92.7 mph and got as high as 97.3 mph, with a sharp slider as his primary finishing pitch. As his arm slot went higher, he settled into a low contact rate and finished with an 11.3 K/9 in the second half.

    Flaherty’s final remaining project is ironing out his control. Even if that takes more time, he might make the All-Star Game on whiffs alone.

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    If anyone’s in the mood for a good trivia item, Jason Bartlett is the only Tampa Bay Ray to ever make the All-Star Game as a shortstop.

    He should soon have company in the person of Willy Adames.

    Adames was one of MLB’s better prospects when the Rays promoted him last May, and he sent good vibes through the roof at Tropicana Field when he homered off Chris Sale for his first major league hit. But by the end of July, he was struggling to the tune of a .552 OPS.

    After that came the turning of a corner. Adames cut down on his swings and loaded up on hard contact after August, and he was rewarded with an .886 OPS and seven homers over his final 51 games.

    A bat like that will play at short, perhaps to a point where Adames will overshadow some of the greats at the position in the American League.

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    The Texas Rangers have a secret weapon in their bullpen in flamethrowing righty Jose Leclerc. But after finishing as arguably a top-five reliever in 2018, all he’s really missing is recognition.

    So, here goes with yet another insistence that Nomar Mazara is about to break out.

    Mazara was universally considered an elite prospect when he joined the Rangers in April 2016, and he’s had his moments. Altogether, however, it’s hard to be impressed by the .746 OPS or 60 homers he’s compiled over 421 games.

    Still, Mazara is only 23. He’s also coming off the best xwOBA of his career, which is mainly owed to his career-best 90.5 mph average exit velocity. And while he doesn’t have them all figured out just yet, he’s been making progress with his split against left-handed pitchers.

    Since he’s as close to breaking out as he’s ever been, maybe 2019 will finally be the year that Mazara clicks.

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Wrapping up our series on famous offspring is the best of them all: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

    Vlad’s dad, Vlad, was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year. The Guerrero family will have another cause to celebrate when Vlad Jr. gets called up to the Toronto Blue Jays, which should be when they’re done artificially suppressing his service time in mid-April.

    All Guerrero will have to do then is his usual thing of clobbering the daylights out of the ball.

    Even his .331/.414/.529 career slash line in three minor league seasons doesn’t do him justice. He just slashed .381/.437/.636 in a 2018 season that took him from High-A to Triple-A. He hit 20 bombs, with only one more strikeout (38) than walks (37).

    These are ridiculous numbers for anyone. They ought to be impossible for a guy who won’t turn 20 until March 16. Yet there they are, and they’re absolutely a prelude to special things to come in the majors.

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    The Phillies are now the “clear-cut favorite” to sign Bryce Harper, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. If that happens, Harper’s time in Washington will be over.

    Good thing the Washington Nationals have Victor Robles standing by. He’s a legit five-tool talent who ranks behind only Guerrero, Tatis and Jimenez on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list.

    There are really only two nits to pick with Robles. He’s had some injuries, including a hyperextended elbow that limited him to 52 minor league games in 2018. He also hit only two homers in the minors last year, which reflects how his power lags behind his other tools.

    Robles is still only 21, however, so his body shouldn’t be broken beyond repair. He’s also fresh off a tantalizing 21-game tease with the Nats at the end of 2018, which included an .874 OPS and three homers.

    If he gets the job, Robles can do in 2019 what Harper did in 2012: win the NL Rookie of the Year.

               

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball SavantBaseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball.

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‘Feel like I’m going to strangle you’: Shutdown breaks Congress’ spirit

Capitol Hill

With most members headed home for a long weekend, the partial shutdown is essentially guaranteed to enter into its second month. | M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico

A dismal mood has descended on Capitol Hill as the shutdown concludes its 27th day.

The House speaker and the president are at war. A bipartisan Senate push to reopen the government failed for a second consecutive week. And no shutdown talks are even planned between party leaders.

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“I feel like I’m going to strangle you,” quipped one senator who’s tried in vain to find a breakthrough when a reporter asked about their state of mind.

That lawmaker was joking, probably, but the vibes in the Capitol are funereal at best. And with most members headed home for a long weekend, the partial shutdown is essentially guaranteed to enter into its second month. It’s an unheard-of impasse even in a capital that’s seen debt crises, blunt budget cuts and scores of unprecedented political conflicts over the past decade.

But this one feels different, a shutdown where the dynamics are frozen. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) don’t want money for a border wall, and President Donald Trump wants $5.7 billion. Rank-and-file lawmakers can make noise and try to create momentum, but Trump has dismissed everything they’ve come up with — leading some members to wonder what they’re even doing.

“It’s very frustrating for me because my whole instinct is: Let’s find a way to get this solved. But so far anyway, his idea of negotiating is to say ‘here’s what I want, I’ll give you nothing,’” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who tried to forge an immigration deal a year ago. “I could sit down with Mike Pence for an afternoon and we might come to some agreement. And then [Trump would] blow it up.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has seemingly tried everything to open the government up. She’s complained publicly about her party’s strategy. She’s signed onto a bipartisan letter urging Trump to end the shutdown in exchange for a three-week immigration debate, which was promptly rejected by the White House, according to sources familiar with the talks. She’s even endorsed moving forward with no wall money.

On Thursday, her plans to travel to Europe for a conference on the Arctic had been cancelled. And the Energy chairman was unsure whether she’d even be able to hold hearings next week with so many of her members out of town.

“Glum. Glum. I’m not a glum person. I’m not somebody who gets down. But I’ve been discouraged,” Murkowski said of her state of mind. “People I work for back home in Alaska are asking me to ‘fix it.’ And it’s hard for one person to fix anything around here. Unless you’re the president. Or the speaker. Or the majority leader.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) summed up his feelings in more dire terms: “We are in this horrible purgatory between heaven and hell.” He said “fatalism” had set in: “That there is no way out unless either he or we relent entirely.”

“Democrats are more than willing to try to give him a face-saving way to step down. He doesn’t seem to want to even consider it,” he said.

Some Senate Republicans were also trying to give Trump an off-ramp, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). They hoped to get as many as 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats to sign their letter to Trump, with the hopes that a substantial Democratic commitment to debating border security and a push from Trump’s own party could shift Washington’s stalemate.

But Republican support for the letter cratered this week amid a widespread belief that the president won’t support opening up the government without a border wall guarantee. The letter still might get sent, according to two people familiar with it. But nobody is super enthused.

“They came up with about nine or 10 Republicans. Which we didn’t think is enough to be convincing to the president,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“I think he’s going to agree to open up the government on a hope and a prayer when donkeys fly. OK?” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who spent more than an hour with Trump on a plane on Monday. “He says: ‘Look I don’t want government to be closed. But I know as soon as I open it up, they’re going to say, ‘thank you very much I don’t want to talk about a border [wall].’”

Pelosi herself told Trump flatly last week that after the government opened, he would not get his wall. And that’s the last time they met face to face.

Since that meeting, their relationship has plummeted to a level of toxicity rarely seen. Pelosi surprised Trump on Wednesday by sending him a letter requesting he postpone his State of the Union address — or send it in writing — until the government reopens. Pelosi cited security concerns but the move would also deny Trump the undivided spotlight and pageantry that accompanies the annual address.

Trump shot back with a counter-attack of his own Thursday, abruptly cancelling Pelosi’s secret trip to Afghanistan in a letter the White House blasted out to reporters over email and Twitter before the speaker’s office was even aware he was doing it. The move was so last-minute that other lawmakers scheduled to accompany Pelosi had already boarded a charter bus set to take them to the airport.

“Pretty foul,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about his mood after hearing about the back and forth. “Too much childishness. Not enough seriousness.”

For Democratic freshmen, their exasperation over inaction reached a boiling point. Several members of the new House class, including many who came from districts Trump won, have been meeting to devise a strategy of their own.

Some in the group seized on the circus-like atmosphere on Capitol Hill, holding an impromptu march to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday to demand he bring up House-passed spending bills to reopen the government. Some in the group tried again on Wednesday, delivering a letter to McConnell’s office and the Senate cloakroom demanding he act.

“Our freshmen were sworn in during a shutdown and only served during a shutdown and generally speaking want to find a way to end it,” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), the freshman class president. He did not join in on the trip to the Senate but said he could relate to his colleagues’ frustration.

So could Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who held an unusual solo press conference on Thursday attacking Washington dysfunction. He said “everybody’s responsible” for the shutdown but offered no new solutions. Another high-profile freshman, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), seemed excited about being a senator but disappointed with the circumstances.

“I heard from one senator that it was very boring his first year here. It has not been boring,” Romney said on Thursday evening. “There’s a lot going on and I’m honored to be part of it. And I’d like to see more progress. I’m sick that the government is shut down.”

Senators are throwing out their own ideas to see what sticks. Kennedy suggested Pelosi and Trump each appoint someone, ship them out of Washington and make them get an agreement before coming back. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said bringing in more pieces to negotiate could shake things up: Federal spending numbers, the debt ceiling or immigration reform.

But Democrats aren’t open to anything other than reopening the government and then debating border security, which Trump will not do. Even those most urgently seeking an end to the shutdown won’t break from that stance, worried about encouraging Trump to seek more brinkmanship to win his priorities.

“Several efforts have been made by Republican senators, by the vice president, by people in the administration to try and find a path forward. And each time in the past three weeks the president has personally shot them down,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “Reopen the government and negotiate. Or there’s no point.”

Marianne LeVine and James Arkin contributed to this report.

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Jack Dorsey Has No Clue What He Wants

A conversation with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey can be incredibly disorienting. Not because he’s particularly clever or thought-provoking, but because he sounds like he should be. He takes long pauses before he speaks. He furrows his brow, setting you up for a considered response from the man many have called a genius. The words themselves sound like they should probably mean something, too. Dorsey is just hard enough to follow that it’s easy to assume that any confusion is your own fault, and that if you just listen a little more or think a little harder, whatever he’s saying will finally start to make sense.

Whether Dorsey does this all deliberately or not, the reason his impassioned defenses of Twitter sound like gibberish is because they are.

Back in October, I sent a message to Dorsey to see if he’d be willing to sit down for an interview. I didn’t really expect a response, partially because he’d just finished a media tour a few months prior but mostly because my previous DMs to him looked like this:

Much to my surprise, he agreed. 

Dorsey was busy in the time between my original ask and when we finally sat down together last week. Over the past few months, he’s been accused of hate mongering in Indiaaccidentally ignored an ongoing genocide in Myanmar and was revealed to have consulted with far-right fringe figure Ali Akbar over the site’s much-criticized decision this past August not to ban Alex Jones (Twitter did finally ban Jones a month later). We had quite a bit to discuss.

My only real goal was to get Dorsey to speak in specifics, about anything. In almost every interview he does, he’ll lament his past mistakes and talk about his various high-minded visions for improving the platform: improving conversational health, reducing echo chambers, increasing transparency and about 10 other rote, buzzy phrases.

But press him for a clear, unambiguous example of nearly anything, and Dorsey shuts down. At one point, for instance, Dorsey explained that Twitter was working toward using machine learning to spot harassment before it’s even reported. When asked how Twitter is handling the problem in the meantime, Dorsey had this to say:

Most of our priority right now in terms of health, which is the No. 1 priority of the company, is around being proactive. How do we remove the burden from the victims or bystanders from reporting in the first place? It’s way too mechanical. It’s way too much work. … But ultimately, we want to make sure that the number of reports that we receive is trending downward. And that will be because of two reasons. One, people are seeing far less abuse or harassment or other things that are against the terms of service. Or that we’re being more proactive about it. So we want to do both. So a lot of our work is that, and then better prioritization in the meantime. A lot more transparency, clearer actions within the product.

Those are certainly words, though none of them appeared to answer my question. It took some more prodding before Dorsey finally pointed to a specific action (that has not yet been implemented but that Twitter is… thinking about? It’s unclear): 

What do you mean by clearer actions within the product?

Just, you know, finding the report button isn’t the most obvious and intuitive right now. So that certainly slows things down.

But what’s the alternative to that?

Making it more obvious? I don’t … I mean, I’m not going to … I don’t know what it looks like right now, but we know what’s wrong with it. So, you know, that’s what we’re working on.

In other words, the most the CEO of Twitter was able to tell me about specific steps being taken to solve the rampant, site-wide harassment problem that’s plagued the platform for years is that they’re looking into maybe making the report button a little bigger, eventually.

Or consider later, when I asked whether Trump tweeting an explicit call for murder would be grounds for removal. Just as he seemed about to answer what seemed like an easy question, he caught himself. “That would be a violent threat,” he started. “We’d definitely … You know we’re in constant communication with all governments around the world. So we’d certainly talk about it.”

They would certainly talk about it.  

Similarly, Dorsey knows that he’s supposed to say Twitter has made some mistakes in the past in terms of its priorities, but stops short of taking responsibility for the platform itself. In our conversation, I asked him about Twitter attaching “#falseflag” to news about this summer’s bomb scare.

Dorsey’s initial response was “we didn’t add that,” before trying to explain it away as people “gaming the system.” Twitter’s algorithm promoting misinformation isn’t some grand manipulation of the platform, though. It’s the platform doing what it was built for. It makes sense, then, that Dorsey finds himself unable to talk about specific solutions. How can you fix something when you’re not even sure what the actual problem is?

It seems clear that Twitter’s current iteration, a machine learning-curated hell, isn’t the website Jack Dorsey wants. He just refuses to say what that website actually is.

The conversation has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity. And if you work at Twitter, please feel free to get in touch


First, I noticed you unfollowed me on Twitter within the past couple of months or so.

Yes, you did. Was there a reason why this happened?

I, uh, was probably going through my list. I’m not sure why.

I don’t know. I probably … I probably went through a bunch. You know, I always clean things up.

I see. Well, I want to talk a little bit about some of the work you’ve been doing with conservatives. Do you think there’s any merit to their claim of bias against conservatives at Twitter? Basically I think it’s conservatives.

Well, I think it would be easy to believe a perspective if you only look at particular things. And you look at actions based on who you follow and whatnot.

Well, I mean, people follow people that violate our terms of service and who we take action upon, and if you’re only following those people and you’re not following anyone else, you tend to see that and the perspective is strengthened. As I said in front of Congress, we do make some mistakes where our algorithms can be super aggressive. But do we build bias into our systems? No, it’s not in our policies, it’s not in our enforcement, and it’s not in our algorithms. When we discover it, we remove it. And that’s a field of research that we need to continue to invest in, bias in algorithms. So the main thing that we’re focused on is how we stay transparent with our actions and continue to be impartial — not neutral, but impartial.

Right. So it sounds like you’re saying that there isn’t any inherent bias in the platform itself against conservatives, but you’ve done a lot to reach out to conservative groups. Are you just trying to mollify them? What’s your ultimate goal?

No, not at all. We did a bunch of conversations with the folks in the media that we — that certainly I — have never talked to before. So in the past, we do tend to stick with more of the financial press or the tech press. Both of which tend to be more on the other side of the spectrum. So, our default is probably to go to that, so we don’t inherently reach out to everyone and talk to everyone. So one is having conversations, two is getting as much perspective as possible. To me, I think it’s useful to hear perspective, even if I don’t believe it, just to hear what other people are saying. I value that, so I’m not going to stop. But it’s not an agenda to mollify, it’s an agenda to listen and hear, like, what’s being said and why it’s being said.

There was a Wall Street Journal article the other day that came out about you speaking with Ali Akbar about the Alex Jones stuff. Did you consult him about it?

You know, during that time, I reached out to a bunch of people. You want to get as many thoughts as possible.

I’m not going to disclose, but as many people as I know that would have opinions on the issue. And I want to make sure that I’m seeing the entire spectrum. People who I know who would probably be more favorable towards his situation, and those who are completely against it. And I want to hear everything in between. That’s how you make good decisions, ultimately.

Well, Ali Akbar’s had a series of tweets, I’m just going to read a couple excerpts for you. “Anti-white comments from Jewish anti-Trump commentator Bill Kristol.” “Jake Tapper who is a Jewish left-leaning journalist.” “The conservative Jewish publication The Daily Wire.” He has a whole series of these, and he seems like a very specific kind of figure to reach out to. Were you aware of his past comments and his tendency to identify which members of the media are Jews?

I don’t act on all of his comments. I listen, and I think that’s the most important thing. I was introduced to him by a friend, and you know, he’s got interesting points. I don’t obviously agree with most. But, I think the perspective is interesting.

But do you think that by virtue of who you are and the fact that you, Jack Dorsey, are seeking input from this person, that it elevates him or validates his views?

No, no. I mean, if I followed his direction, then certainly. But it’s just input.

Well, before you banned Alex Jones, you said, “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.” I’m assuming those conspiracy theories were the allegations of bias against conservatives on the platform.

Well, I think the conspiracy theory was that all companies were working in concert together to deplatform.

Oh, right, so general conspiracy theories about conservatives being targeted in media.

Right, this is what I was referring to, in terms of all platforms working together. We definitely collaborate on methods, but particular actions, we don’t.

But it seems like the desire to avoid fueling these was in the back of your head when thinking about these decisions. Is that accurate?

No. What I said is that there was an active conspiracy theory around all these companies working together. We want to state that we have a Terms of Service and that we are going to follow it. Then when we find that we need to take action, we’ll take action. But there’s no decision other than making sure that we stay true to our enforcement policies.

I also wanted to ask you a little bit about the apology you made to Candace Owens a while back. You said, “Hi Candace, I want to apologize for our labeling you ‘far-right.’ Team completed a full review of how this was published and why we corrected far too late.” I think you’d be kind of hard-pressed to find anyone who would say Candace Owens isn’t far-right, and I think she would agree with that if she was being honest. But even if you dispute that, getting an apology from the CEO of Twitter for something like this seems like an extraordinary step. I’m curious why you decided to intervene in this particular instance directly.

Well, I apologized because we generally shouldn’t be categorizing people. Our curation team should not be using our descriptions to categorize people. We should be describing what happened. We should be describing the instances, but we shouldn’t be categorizing people ourselves.

But even just calling someone far-right isn’t inherently negative.

I’m not saying it’s a negative. I’m saying we shouldn’t do it, even if it was a positive, we shouldn’t do it. We need to be descriptive as part of our curation guidelines, descriptive of what happened. Like, our whole role in that is to find the interesting tweets that show a story from all perspectives. The moment that we inject any sort of categorization, we’ve lost that promise.

You don’t think even just identifying someone as a journalist or an actor, just in terms of—

That’s dIfferent from what you said.

But it’s categorizing someone.

That’s a profession. That’s the title that they’re taking on that they self-proclaimed.

But far-right commentator is her profession.

Does she self-proclaim that?

I mean, she would probably call herself a conservative commentator, but either way it’s just a difference of degree.

I don’t know. When people self-proclaim something we might be more open to using it, but generally we should avoid categorizing people because we can be descriptive of the events.

Alright, well a lot of people — myself included — were frustrated to see that because, for instance, if someone tweets out our home address or phone number, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not Twitter is going to do anything about it.

That’s unacceptable, as well.

Right, and we’ll get emails back from Twitter support saying that it doesn’t violate the private information policy.

It should. But again, we’re not in a great state right now with our systems because they rely upon reporting. So we’re not going to take any action unless it’s reported. And then we take action, and we have a whole queue that we have to get through. We’re moving to a world that’s a lot more proactive by utilizing machine learning. But that will have errors and mistakes. So we don’t feel good about anyone being doxed, certainly. We want to catch everything as much as we can, but there are limitations to how much we can do.

But what I’m saying is, people will very publicly share these instances when they happen, of Twitter saying that their address being posted doesn’t violate the policy. And I’m sure you’ve seen some of them before. So why did Candace Owens’ outrage about being labeled far-right compel you to address that so publicly, whereas the others might not have?

Well, we make other apologies, as well. But this was … You have to keep in mind, you know, someone doxing someone else on the platform and us missing it is a huge miss for us, and we should correct it as quickly as possible. But we took something and broadcast it to everyone, everyone on the service, in a way that was against our guidelines. So, that’s why.

While you’re working on being more proactive about curbing harassment, there’s still the instances where it is being reported and not acted upon. What happens to that in the meantime?

So, I mean, a lot of our work right now is looking at the prioritization of the queues and making sure that, No. 1, we’re protecting someone’s physical safety as much as we can and understanding the offline ramifications of using our service. So that’s work in flight. Most of our priority right now in terms of health, which is the No. 1 priority of the company, is around being proactive. How do we remove the burden from the victims or bystanders from reporting in the first place? It’s way too mechanical. It’s way too much work. If people have to report, we should see it as a failure. If they have to mute and block that’s another degree, it’s a little bit less. But ultimately, we want to make sure that the number of reports that we receive is trending downward. And that will be because of two reasons. One, people are seeing far less abuse or harassment or other things that are against the terms of service. Or that we’re being more proactive about it. So we want to do both. So a lot of our work is that, and then better prioritization in the meantime. A lot more transparency, clearer actions within the product.

What do you mean by clearer actions within the product?

Just, you know, finding the report button isn’t the most obvious and intuitive right now. So that certainly slows things down.

But what’s the alternative to that?

Making it more obvious? I don’t … I mean, I’m not going to … I don’t know what it looks like right now, but we know what’s wrong with it. So, you know, that’s what we’re working on.

And what do you mean exactly when you’re talking about the health of the platform?

So it’s this concept of conversational health. So it’s what’s pinned to my profile. We kicked off this initiative to first try to measure the health of conversation. And then second, as we build solutions around it, how do we tell if we’re doing the right work? Because we don’t have a lot of great metrics as to whether the things that we’re doing are working well.

But how do you qualify conversational health?

Well, it’s in the thread. but I’ll describe it as … We can measure the level of toxicity, for instance, within a conversation. We can measure the level of perspective?

Right, but how? What makes something toxic?

We have algorithms that can determine, based on the network, based on what people are doing elsewhere, based on the number of reports, based on mutes and blocks, whether this is a conversation that you’d want to stay in or you’d want to walk away from. And that doesn’t inform any direct action, but it can inform enforcement actions and whatnot, like when a human has to actually review. So toxicity is one such metric, we call it receptivity. Like, are the members of the conversation receptive to each other? We have variety of perspective as an indicator. We have shared reality.

How do you determine someone’s perspective?

You have to … Like, this is all conversations.

Right, but I’m assuming that comes from which people are involved in conversations, or is that not right?

Um, potentially. Right now we’re just trying to determine what the indicators are. Like, temperature on your body — that indicates whether you’re sick or not, right? So if you were to apply the same concept to conversations, what are the indicators of a healthy conversation versus a toxic conversation? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We did this whole thing with outside researchers and RFP to get external help to determine these indicators. But this is all in the health thread, all the details.

In terms of Twitter itself promoting something, there have been issues in the past. Most recently when all these prominent Democrats were receiving homemade bombs, Twitter, in the related search terms, added ”#falseflag” to the bomb scare. Things like this happen somewhat—

Well, that’s a related hashtag, isn’t it?

Well, you did, because Twitter’s algorithm picks it up. Is Twitter monitoring for when—

Yeah, we’re monitoring. We’re monitoring it. If we see something like that, we… We’ll act on it. But these are the algorithms. We need to constantly improve them and evolve them. They’re not going to be perfect, right?

Is this all just reactive? Or is there an effort when this happens to—

Oh, there’s a bunch you don’t see because we caught them. I would say probably the majority, but every now and then there’s going to be a new vector that we haven’t trained our algorithms around. So we have to be reactive in those cases.

But do you feel any sense of responsibility for amplifying this sort of misinformation? Because this isn’t just people saying something on the platform, it’s the platform elevating whatever it is. And even if you catch most of them, there’s still ones that get through and that have very real consequences.

Yeah, I mean, we feel a responsibility when people game our system and take advantage of it. So you know, this is not a … That said, we’ll never arrive at a perfect solution where our system is un-gameable.

Right, but I don’t know if this is entirely gaming the system.

I mean, there’s lots of people who genuinely believe this, who genuinely think and want people to know that it’s false flag but aren’t necessarily trying to coordinate. And then Twitter picks it up because that’s what it’s built to do, to pick up what people are talking about.

Right, yeah, we do. And we should. We should show what people are talking about, but we need to be careful in terms of what links we make and what we surface.

I know Twitter just introduced a new tool for political ad transparency in India, but there’s still sort of this question of what Twitter will do if politicians actively misuse the platform. Has that ever happened where a politician has been removed, and does Twitter have any plans for what to do if that happens?

Um, I don’t know about the cases. We can … we can figure that out for you. But yeah, I mean, we’re preparing for the Indian elections. It’s going to be the biggest democratic election in the world. And Twitter is heavily used by the influencers and the politicians and the government in India, so we’re very fortunate in that degree. And we want to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the conversation around the election.

Right. But what do you do when it’s the politicians that are promoting misinformation or—

So then is there anything that, say, Donald Trump could do that would qualify as a misuse? Because I know the newsworthy aspect of it outweighs a lot of that. But is there anything that he could do that would qualify as misusing the platform, regardless of newsworthiness?

Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot, so I’m not going to rehash it. We believe it’s important that the world sees how global leaders think and how they act. And we think the conversation that ensues around that is critical.

OK, but if Trump tweeted out asking each of his followers to murder one journalist, would you remove him?

That would be a violent threat. We’d definitely … You know we’re in constant communication with all governments around the world. So we’d certainly talk about it.

OK, but if he did that, would that be grounds to—

I’m not going to talk about particulars. We’ve established protocol, it’s transparent. It’s out there for everyone to read. We have, independent of the U.S. president, we have conversations with all governments. It’s not just limited to this one.

All right, well, I want to move on to the some of the aftermath from your trip to Myanmar. Did anyone look over those tweets before they went out or was that just from you?

Were you surprised at all by how people reacted, or were you taken aback at all?

Um … No. I mean, I think … I wasn’t overly surprised. You know, my intention was to share my experience, period.

In one of the tweets, you said part of the meditation technique was to answer the question, “How do I stop suffering?” I’m assuming that means in terms of the individual?

Well, no, that was … If you read the tweet, it was Buddha’s question to himself.

Right. But do you realize how that sounds to be repeating that question and talking about ending suffering as Jack Dorsey, the billionaire, while the U.N. is calling for military officials in this country to be prosecuted for genocide? I’m just wondering if you see how your role is actually larger than just yourself.

I do, but I’m not gonna change the practice because of it and what people say. Like, this is the practice that Buddha laid out, and I’m not going to change it just because I have this particular role. I’m sharing what I practiced and what I experienced.

I guess what I’m asking is more … do you feel like you have more of a responsibility now, because of who you are, to bring up these topics because you have this huge platform and influence?

Yeah. I mean, I would love to go back and really understand that dynamic. I went for one particular reason which was meditation. And that’s what I was sharing, that one thing right. It wasn’t to represent Twitter, or—

But you do represent Twitter.

I realize that, but I’m also human. And this practice is good for me and helps me learn and grow. So that’s what I was sharing, and certainly act on all the feedback and everything that was going on. But that wasn’t the point of this particular visit.

Would you do anything differently if you were doing it again?

In terms of the practice? No.

In terms of the practice, yeah, or how you discussed it when you came back.

Yeah, I mean, not bringing it up was a miss, but I really wanted to focus the thread on what I experienced in the practice. I think I did a good job with that.

There was also another incident a few months ago in India where you got in some trouble for holding a poster that said “Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy.” A lot of people see these as a sort of institutional ignorance, or that Twitter doesn’t really understand the responsibility of its role in the world. How how would you respond to that?

Well, I think, you know, we are always learning more about our responsibility in the world. But that particular case where I was given a poster and then someone immediately said “Let’s take a picture.”

Sure, but because of, again, who you are, are you ever more careful about any sort of photo you’re in because of how your image could be used?

Well, obviously not. I mean, what do I do, not accept anything from anyone? Not ever take pictures? I don’t know. What’s the solution?

I mean, that, I guess. But also, I know you talk a lot about trying to raise up different perspectives in the platform. How are you going to account for that?

Well, the biggest thing and I think we need to combat is filter bubbles and echo chambers. So, as an example, during Brexit, if you were to follow only Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and all these other folks, you would only see tweets about reasons to leave. If we enabled you to do something like following a hashtag, like, #voteleave, 90 percent would be reasons to leave, but 10 percent would be reasons to stay. In the current mechanics of the system, we don’t allow that reality. We don’t even allow different perspectives because you have to do the work to find the other accounts. So you could say, well, people could just go the hashtag. People don’t do that. It’s not easy for them, and they’re only going to do what’s easy. But we don’t make it easy. So, that is one simple thing that we could do to increase the amount and the variety perspective. Where, it might be that they see that, they follow the #voteleave tag, and they see the reasons to stay and that further emboldens them into leaving. Or it might be the case that they say, wait a minute, why are we doing this? We don’t know. But we haven’t even given people a chance to decide and have that experience.

On a different note, I think you were out of the country for this, but were you made aware that Laura Loomer handcuffed herself to the Twitter building in New York?

What’d you think about her protest?

Um … [laughter] I don’t know. I mean, she believes that we’ve done her wrong, and I respect the fight and pushing back on us.

Well, she wasn’t fighting that hard, she only handcuffed herself to one of the doors.

I don’t know the details but, um, yeah. I appreciate when people speak up when they think that, you know, someone has done them wrong. Speaking truth to power is something that has flourished on our platform, and she believes we’ve done wrong by her, and she took action. So, I respect that. I don’t agree with most of the things she says, but, you know.

And is there any situation at all in which you would decide to delete the site?

Now I remember why I unfollowed you! Because that’s all you DM me, “delete the site.”

Well, that’s … Maybe half the time.

But how is that going to help?

That’s the question, though. Is there a situation where you would just decide that it’s better to be free of this?

Should we just delete all the negative things in the world?

Are you saying Twitter is a negative thing?

Well, that’s what you’re assuming when you say that.

What would you use if we deleted it?

I don’t know, I’d have a lot more time on my hands.

What would you do with that time?

I really can’t even begin to imagine.

I just … I don’t think it’s constructive. I’d rather hear constructive ideas on what we could fix. We get a lot of complaints. We get a lot of issues, and they’re all coming from a good place of good intent. But we have to dig under and figure out what the patterns are that we need to prioritize and fix. Because we can only do so much at once. So when somebody constantly tells me, “delete the site,” it’s just not helpful. Whereas other folks tell me, “Hey, you know if you do this one thing you would just have a massive impact.”

Well, deleting the site would have a massive impact — but that’s fine, we can agree to disagree. I know we’re running out of time, but I just have two more questions. I know there was a report recently that you mailed some of your beard hair to Azealia Banks. Did that happen?

That’s disappointing. And last, I’m just wondering, what use of your platform has horrified you the most, or that you didn’t expect the most?

I mean that we weren’t expecting any of the abuse and harassment, and just the ways that people have weaponized the platform. So, all that is horrible. And you know, we feel bad about that and we feel responsible about it. So that’s that’s what we intend to fix.

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Quentin Grimes Is on His Way…Soon

Two days into the New Year, Kansas welcomed Oklahoma to Allen Fieldhouse and embarked on its annual quest to capture the Big 12 title.

After 14 years, Kansas’ streak has become something of a college basketball cliche. The last time a team other than the Jayhawks won the conference, Georgia Tech was in the Final Four, LeBron James was a rookie in Cleveland and Donald Trump was starring in the first season of The Apprentice. Now, the streak is older than some of the high school prospects Kansas is beginning to recruit.

But streaks, like rules, are meant to be broken. No team can dominate indefinitely. And with under three minutes left against Oklahoma, the Sooners appeared to have Kansas on the ropes. They were down by six points but on a 9-2 run during which Kansas’ offense had stagnated. To generate some scoring, the Jayhawks ran an offensive set through freshman Quentin Grimes on the right wing. But as Grimes rounded the corner and drove into the lane, Oklahoma guard Aaron Calixte popped the ball loose. For a brief second, it seemed like the latest disappointment for Grimes.

The most highly touted prospect of Kansas coach Bill Self‘s spectacular 2018 class, the 6’5″, 210-pound guard began his Kansas career with an incredible splash. He dropped 21 points on 14 shots against Michigan State in the Champions Classic, and then followed that up with 10 points and 10 assists against Vermont. But the rest of 2018 was something of a struggle. Grimes only scored in double figures two more times in 10 tries. His offensive rating coming into the Oklahoma game was a paltry 82.2, according to kenpom.com, making him the only Jayhawks starter with a mark south of 100. And this was his third turnover of the night.

Then, as quickly as he lost the ball, he forced it loose again. In the ensuing scramble, he dove to the floor, slid between the legs of an Oklahoma forward and somehow, with two Sooners crashing into him, slipped a pass to his point guard, Devon Dotson. Dotson drove in for an and-1, and the Jayhawks coasted to the win. After the game, Self called Grimes’ effort “the best play he’s made all year.”

After losing a road game against unranked Iowa State on Jan. 5 and losing center Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury, Kansas needs Grimes more than ever.

“I expect for him to impact every possession in some shape or form,” Self says. “And that’s a compliment to a guy. There are some guys who can only impact certain possessions in certain ways. And he can impact by passing, by vision, by IQ, by plugging himself in. Anything less than that is unacceptable and not pushing him to be who he is. He didn’t come here to play half-assed. He came here to do something special.”

Those who know him best insist that Grimes has a killer instinct that’s ready to be revealed. Now the question is: Can it emerge in time for Kansas to keep its Big 12 streak alive? Could Quentin Grimes help Kansas return to the Final Four?


Marshall Grimes and Tonja Stelly, Quentin’s father and mother, each played college basketball. Grimes played point guard at Santa Clara in California and later at Louisiana Lafayette, and Stelly played two seasons of forward at Fort Hayes State in Kansas before quitting basketball and transferring to KU. Together, they shared in the early joys of watching their toddler take to the sport they both loved. Despite their backgrounds, Grimes and Stelly agreed that Quentin shouldn’t specialize in one sport too early. There was just one problem: Quentin had no interest in anything besides basketball.

Stelly asked him to try out for soccer every year of elementary school, but he wouldn’t so much as step foot on the field. And his football career lasted less than a week. He tried out at the behest of one of his best friends, Mike Woods, who now plays wide receiver at Arkansas. Woods’ dad was the assistant coach on a pee-wee team, and he encouraged Grimes to join.

“He made it three practices,” Stelly says now. “He didn’t even play a game before he was gone. Basketball has always been Quentin’s love.”

Marshall never coached Quentin, but he did help his son build his game in the backyard. Marshall began by showing Quentin the greats of his generation. They’d watch full games featuring Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, whose basketball primes ended years before Quentin was born in 2000. When either father or son saw a move that intrigued them, they’d walk outside into the Houston heat and practice until it was perfected.

But his favorite player was one he’d watched live: Kobe Bryant. Marshall and Quentin studied the Lakers star from head to toe, analyzing everything from his footwork to his shooting stroke.

“Everybody respects the older generation and how good they were,” Quentin Grimes says, “but I don’t know if they watch them like I do. I’m trying to work my way up to that Mamba Mentality. It’ll take a while to get to that level, but I’ll make it one day.”

By middle school, Grimes had developed a local reputation, but his national status was still uncertain. A 2014-15 preseason blurb about College Park High School in the Houston Chronicle noted that as a freshman, he was “expected to play an important role, potentially developing into an impact player early in his career.” He put up a respectable 8.8 points and 3.4 assists per game as a starter, but the pressures of that first season and a coaching change in his AAU program shook his faith in the game a bit. On the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend that year, Grimes told his parents he didn’t want to play basketball that summer.

“Quentin was miserable,” Stelly says. “The light had gone out. I’d never seen him like that. Basketball is his whole life. It’s what he loves and he’s passionate about it. As a parent, it was, ‘Oh my gosh, what has happened?’ We weren’t quitters, and he had to fight through the battle. It was so bad I was looking into sports psychologists. I was like, ‘Something is wrong, and if I can’t get it pulled out of him, then I need a professional.’ We decided not to play that season.”

Grimes rediscovered his passion for the sport by returning to the process with his dad. And he found the fun again by playing pickup games. He balled out with former college and NBA players in the Houston area in games organized by his dad, and together, he and Marshall ran the floor at the 24 Hour Fitness by his house.

“I’m a little past my prime,” Marshall jokes, “but I can still play some. And when teams needed a player, they’d start asking Quentin to play with them. At first, I thought they were doing me a favor, being nice to my boy. It took me a little too long to realize they weren’t helping me out. They were trying to win games.”

After one game at the end of the summer, a stranger told Marshall that Quentin was good but really needed to get stronger. Marshall looked at his son—then a 6’2″, 165-pound rising high school sophomore—and wondered, Could he really be behind? Then the man asked Marshall when Quentin was leaving for college that fall. And Marshall knew his son was ahead of schedule. In his second season at College Park, Quentin posted 16.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. That next summer, he jumped to a new AAU team, Basketball University, and broke out. 

“Most 16- to 18-year-olds like to play video games, chase girls or drive their cars,” says Clifton McNeely, Quentin’s high school coach. “Quentin wasn’t that way. He went to work not only on his skills and playing but also on developing his body. What separates the elite kids is not only the natural athleticism but also the work it takes to develop that. There’s no glory in the weight room, but Quentin had a different drive. He just gave everything to basketball.”


McNeely likes to tell Quentin that the only repayment he needs when Grimes makes it to the NBA is a new microwave. And Tonja Stelly likes to tell her son that she misses him in her house but she’s thankful to have her weekends back. When Quentin was in high school, Tonja would spend her Sundays chopping, searing and steaming healthy lunches and snacks for him to bring to school during the week. And so rather than eat in the cafeteria, Quentin would go into the coaches’ office and heat up what his mother had cooked for him.

“It was funny,” McNeely says, “because he was so polite. Every day, he’d knock before he came in. And every day, he’d say thank you when he left. Even though he knew he was welcome. The only things anyone ever got upset about was when the tennis coach, who is a Wichita State grad, found out he was going to Kansas—or when he [had] fish and stunk up the office for the rest of the day.”

For Grimes, a methodical approach to meals mirrored his take on the game. When he realized he needed to improve his agility, he started working out at Dynamic Sports Training, a gym known primarily for improving the skills of baseball players. When he needed to narrow his recovery window as he played more and more minutes, he started going to a cryotherapy chamber twice a week with his mother. And when he was asked to play more often off the ball after a childhood of playing point guard, he went back to the film room with his father and picked up more moves from Bryant.

“I’m a natural scorer,” Grimes says, “so I feel like if I’m a shooting guard, it makes it look better if I have a nice pass, because I’m supposed to be off ball. If I’m on ball, it’s the same when I score. When I was younger, I could score, but I was kind of small, so they classified me as a point guard. But then I just kept growing and growing, so they labeled me something different. Whether I play on the ball or off the ball, it doesn’t matter to me. I really feel like I’m just a guard.”

It was that measured approach to building his basketball career that led him to stay at his high school all four years, despite prolific offers from prep programs. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August of 2017, Grimes was glad that he hadn’t left, so that he could be part of the relief effort in his hometown. His parents’ houses hadn’t been affected, but he didn’t have to go far to see the devastation the storm had caused. One afternoon, a few days after Harvey had passed, Grimes went to his room and stared at the stacks of sneakers, backpacks and clothes he’d been given on the AAU circuit. Much of it had never seen the outside of the box—much less the outside world. He and his parents packed up their SUV with thousands of dollars worth of premium basketball gear, and spent the day delivering it to relief distribution centers.

A few days later, he went to shootaround at Legends Sports Complex, a gym near his home in The Woodlands, and found it had been damaged by the hurricane, too. He asked the director there how he could help, and he told Quentin he could dig. So Quentin found a shovel and began clearing the debris. Only after an afternoon of manual labor did he head inside to do the work he’d originally intended to do on the court.

“I’ve had college coaches ask for years, and now I’ve got NBA scouts doing their background checks,” McNeely says. “They always ask: ‘Where’s the flaw? What aren’t you telling us?’ The truth is, there’s nothing. He’s a great player and a great person.”

The only thing coaches have ever wanted from Grimes is more. And his production progressed with each year at College Park. As a junior in 2016-17, he averaged 28.1 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. And as a senior, he averaged 29.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. In one game that season, McNeely pulled him late in a game without realizing that he was at 48 points. After a timeout, Grimes created a clandestine plan with teammates to check himself back in without his coach’s permission. Grimes got in, got the ball, got the bucket and got right back to the bench.

Last year, he became a McDonald’s All-American, a Jordan Brand Classic participant and the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year. And that was all before playing for his future coach, Bill Self, in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship, where he won a gold medal and was named the tournament’s MVP.

“Quentin fools people on the court sometimes still,” Marshall Grimes says. “He seems like a nice kid, but when he smells blood in the water, he’ll put you away.”

Quentin Grimes got a taste of life with Bill Self as his coach when he helped Team USA win the FIBA U18 Americas Championship last summer.

Quentin Grimes got a taste of life with Bill Self as his coach when he helped Team USA win the FIBA U18 Americas Championship last summer.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

At that competition in Canada, Grimes felt more confident than ever in his college decision. No matter how well he played in any game, Self would pull him aside to watch footage afterward and show him scoring opportunities he’d missed. And when Grimes didn’t perform a fundamental—like a lob pass to the post—perfectly, Self would make him stay in position until he got it right.

“I told him later on,” Self says sarcastically, “‘Wouldn’t you hate to play for a coach who wants you to score every time you touch it, or wants you to make a play every time you touch it? That’d be awful to play for a coach like that, wouldn’t it?’ And then he understood where I was coming from.”

Late in the summer, Stelly worried that her son might have taken on too much. After all, his schedule was so slammed that he only had a five-day window when he would be able to get his wisdom teeth removed. But what she saw next reassured her. Everyone had always wanted more from her son, but she could see he was still glad to give it. On the day after his operation, in the one week off he had during the summer, Quentin  grabbed his car keys and headed to his old high school gym to shoot hoops.


Quentin Grimes couldn’t have asked for a better college debut than his performance at the Champions Classic, but much of the rest of the season has been a struggle. His numbers have improved in conference play after a quiet December—his effective field goal percentage is in the top 20 in the Big 12, and his two-point percentage is in the top five—but he knows that’s not enough.

“People have always told me to be more aggressive,” Grimes says, “but I like to go out there and figure out the game and figure out the flow. People want me to go out there and be in attack mode. My coaches have always said the same thing: ‘We want you to shoot, and we want you to score.’ I’m real unselfish on the court, so I had to figure that out. It took me a while to learn that. I’m going through that here with Coach Self. They brought me here to be a scorer, and they tell me every day to be more aggressive. I’m progressing.”

Grimes has struggled to produce consistently as a freshman at Kansas, but Self still feels he's one of the most talented young guards KU has had in his coaching tenure.

Grimes has struggled to produce consistently as a freshman at Kansas, but Self still feels he’s one of the most talented young guards KU has had in his coaching tenure.David K Purdy/Getty Images

Self still has full confidence in Grimes, too.

“Quentin is probably the most well-rounded young guard we’ve ever had here,” he says. “When you think about guards, his handle, explosiveness, strength, range, vision, toughness—he checks a lot of boxes. But still, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen for him. That doesn’t guarantee anything for him, but I’d still rather have those things than not have those things. I hope he can play to the talent level I think he has.”

To break through the slump, Grimes is doing what he’s always done: returning to the process that made him great in the first place. A few years ago, Kansas built McCarthy Hall, an $11.2 million dorm for its basketball players. The building has a full court. And every other night, after he’s gone to workouts, practices, classes and study halls, Grimes grabs the rebounding gun and begins shooting. He doesn’t play music because he likes to listen to the ball rip through the net. He shoots until he’s made 300 three-pointers. There in the quiet, he makes sure he’s ready for the next big moment. He knows how far this process has brought him, and he knows it’ll take him to the next level, too. He feels like it won’t be long now.

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With WayV, All Eyes Are Finally On C-pop

By Tássia Assis

WayV, a boy group composed of members from Korean label SM Entertainment’s experimental collective NCT, debuted today (January 17) in China with their three-song digital EP, The Vision. The group benefits from the popularity of known faces WinWin, Lucas, and Ten, while properly introducing member Kun to a fixed unit and welcoming rookies Xiaojun, Hendery, and Yangyang to the ensemble. For SM, WayV represent the next step in the company’s plan to extend their reach across the globe with region-specific idol groups — but they’re also a gamble.

This is not the first time that SM Entertainment has tested the billion-dollar Chinese market, where the most popular acts have profits that average more than $17 million USD per month. In 2008, the company debuted Super Junior-M, a Mandarin subunit of popular boy group Super Junior, and promoted soloist Zhang Liyin’s first solo album, I WILL. In 2012, idol group EXO debuted with two subunits, EXO-K and EXO-M, with the intent of promoting in Korea and China simultaneously.

However, following the implementation of THAAD restrictions in 2017, which banned South Korean music and television content to be streamed in China, Hallyu’s (or Korean pop culture) world expansion took a blow that led to focusing in other markets, such as the West, Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The tensions also halted SM’s ambitious plan to debut WayV in 2018; in fact, removing the NCT label from the group’s name — they’re rumored to have been originally named NCT Vision — seemed to be a calculated decision.

In order to overcome any THAAD-related obstacles, SM’s strategy for WayV is to promote them under Label V, a Chinese company who will manage the group’s activities in China. (It’s unconfirmed whether SM will manage the group and its seven members outside of China.) Now, with the release of their new EP, curious eyes turn toward the burgeoning C-pop idol industry, making this a timely moment for a proper introduction to the genre.

C-pop is, first of all, a term much like K-pop, embracing various styles under Chinese popular music. It has three main subgenres: Cantopop (sung in Cantonese), Minnan Pop (sung in Taiwanese Hokkien), and the most popular, Mandopop (sung in Mandarin).

China tends to prefer soloists over groups, with popular solo artists Jay Chou, JJ Lin, and Jolin Tsai historically owning the market, but this hasn’t stopped K-pop idol groups from developing massive audiences in the country. Legendary boy band Big Bang has over 7 million followers on their Weibo page, while EXO’s Sehun has amassed more than 10 million fans on his profile. Many Chinese idols who work in the K-pop industry also tend to carve out successful solo careers in the country, such as EXO’s Lay Zhang and GOT7’s Jackson Wang.

Getty Images

Chinese idols Lay Zhang (left) and Jackson Wang (right)

However, the soloist trend might be starting to change. The aforementioned political tension between South Korea and China has posed obstacles for the Hallyu expansion, but also left enough space in Chinese entertainment to prompt a surge of their own productions. The country’s edition of Produce 101 drew more than 4.3 billion views in total, while Idol Producer, a similar survival show produced by Baidu’s iQiyi, garnered over 100 million votes to decide the top 20 trainees.

The enormous success of both shows has led to online commentary naming 2018 “the first year of the idols’ reign” in China. Meanwhile, several Chinese music shows, inspired by Korea’s popular weekly music broadcasts, also launched last year, including iQiyi’s Idol Hits and tech giant Tencent’s Yo! Bang, a streaming show that gives out awards based on chart results.

With so much excitement around C-pop in its home country — and deep-pocketed investors who believe idol groups might finally break out in China — the moment is certainly promising, even though the industry itself is still figuring things out. The government’s extensive internet censorship — which restricts access to most content for the rest of the world — is one of the biggest hurdles. Still, there are a slew of idol groups to look forward to in 2019. Take a look.

  1. Nine Percent

    The temporary boy band formed by Idol Producer released their first album To The Nines last November, accumulating almost a million digital sales and landing at No. 2 on the Billboard China V chart. After the survival show ended, the group was sent to Los Angeles for two weeks to further their training, where they worked with producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Emmy-nominated choreographer Christopher Scott. Another reality show, Nine Percent: Flower Road Journey, followed the group during their trip.

    Cai Xukun, the first-place contestant, was already a popular figure due to his activities with group SWIN S and his own solo work, and K-pop fans might know members Zhu Zhengting (formerly known as JungJung) and Justin (Huang Minghao) from the Korean version of Produce 101, where both competed. The group also includes Fan Chengcheng (known as actress Fan BingBing’s younger brother), Chen Linong, Lin Yanjun, Wang Ziyi, Xiao Gui, and You Zhangjing.

    Their latest release, “I Need a Doctor,” is a melodramatic pop song about heartache, echoing the best of *NSYNC’s lovesick anthem, “I Drive Myself Crazy.” It’s an addictive track that showcases why they’re the nation’s pick (and probably will become yours, too).

  2. Rocket Girls 101

    The winners of Produce 101 released their first EP, 撞 (Collide), in August, garnering over two million digital sales on QQ Music, China’s biggest streaming platform, as well as a double-diamond certification. Meng Meiqi and Wu Xuanyi, from K-pop group WJSN, finished in the top two spots on the show, and former The Rap of China contestant Yamy placed fifth. Completing the eleven-member set are Yang Chaoyue, Duan Aojuan, Lai Meiyun, Zhang Zining, Sunnee, Li Ziting, Fu Jing, and Xu Mengjie.

    While their debut was nearly derailed because of management issues, the girls are known for their bubbly pop songs, such as “Calorie,” a top-charting single for the movie Xihong City’s Richest Man. However, it’s “Sailor Moon,” a b-side promoted on live shows, that reveals their true potential. The song features an exciting mix of futuristic sounds and 8-bit music, with addictive “oh oh oh la la la las” and Yamy’s rap elevating the track to another dimension. The only thing missing is an official music video, but for now, the live performances do a great job displaying the girls’ charisma and skill.

  3. NEX7

    Managed by Yuehua Entertainment, the same company that represents K-pop groups WJSN (in partnership with Korea’s Starship Entertainment) and UNIQ, septet NEX7 are yet another debut to ride on the popularity of Idol Producer. All members participated on the show, with Fan Chengcheng, Zhu Zhengting, and Justin (Huang Minghao) making it to the final line-up. The remaining members are Ding Zeren (who was a former SM Entertainment trainee), Bi Wenjun, Huang Xinchun, and Li Quanzhe, and the group recently released their second album, Next to You, selling over two million digital copies on NetEase Cloud Music, another prominent music streaming service in the country.

    Because of their company’s partnerships with Korea-based agencies, NEX7 trained in the country, and their debut song, “Wait a Minute,” was in part produced by Ryan S. Jhun, who’s worked on K-pop hits like SHINee’s “Lucifer,” EXO’s “Love Me Right,” and Red Velvet’s “Dumb Dumb.” The song is an explosion of hard-hitting sounds, plagued by the hook’s unfortunate “woo woos” and “skrrrt skrrrts,” but its melodic verses make up for it, as well as the trippy, colorful visual.

  4. FANXYRED

    Having first debuted under the name Acrush in 2017, FANXYRED are a group comprised of five androgynous young women who encourage fans to pursue their own identities. Inspired by singer Li Yuchun, who is considered the mother of unisex looks in China, Lu Keran, Peng Xichen, Linfan, An Junxi, and Peng Yiyang offer a fresh approach to girl groups.

    While their re-debut under the new name is still to be announced, they currently upload dance covers of K-pop songs and other videos on their company’s YouTube channel.

  5. ONER

    Yet another fruit of Idol Producer, ONER are a quartet under Qin’s Entertainment. They debuted in August 2018 with the album 过敏 (Allergy) and were awarded Popular Group of the Year at the Tencent Star Awards in December.

    Their debut single, “Dazzle,” is an atmospheric deep-house track with an alluringly mysterious vibe. The music video — an aesthetically pleasing mash-up of neon lights, plants, and geometric objects (a C-pop twist on the iconic “SM box“) — is an entrancing experience.

Other notable projects from Idol Producer are Awaken-F, MR-X, and Tangram. Produce 101 hasn’t produced as many debuts, but some existing groups from the contestants are worth checking out, including S.I.N.G (Sing Girls), MERA, and KOGIGIRLS.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about idol groups in China and not mention the long-standing popularity of TFBoys. Karry Wang, Roy Wang, and Jackson Yee debuted in 2013 when they were only 12 and 13 years old, and their first hit, “青春少年手册 Manual of Youth,” propelled them to widespread fame thanks to their wholesome image and patriotic message. They’re still considered one of the most popular acts in China, with over 200 million followers combined on Weibo and staggering yearly profits.

On the soloist-dominated Chinese charts, TFBoys are still one of the few exceptions, but there’s room for change as the idol industry places its bets on China. The development of their own music shows and other events create exposure to idol groups and foster fan culture, in a model inspired by the Japanese and Korean markets. With loyal and engaged fandoms of their own, Chinese groups can finally find sustainability and profit beyond one-hit wonders.

We’re only halfway through January, but WayV’s anticipated debut — in addition to the second season of Idol Producer and Youku’s rookie idol survival show, All For One (where WayV are scheduled to guest), premiering on Friday (January 18) — prove that C-pop could be the next wave to take hold of global culture.

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2019 NFL Draft: 1 Surprise Prospect Every Team Could Target

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The NFL draft brings a sense of hope to teams adding new talent, promise to young players joining the NFL’s ranks and pageantry to the entire process.

    The draft is also a reality show full of twists, turns and surprises. While it’s easy to think we know what’s going to happen heading into the draft, the early rounds regularly shock us.

    Who actually expected the Cleveland Browns to draft undersized quarterback Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall last year? Who saw the Baltimore Ravens trading up to grab Lamar Jackson with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco already on the roster?

    Surprises happen early in the draft, and the 2019 edition will be no exception. With this in mind, let’s examine one surprising pick each team could conceivably pull the trigger on. These are either prospects who don’t fill an obvious team need or whose skill sets make them an unusual choice for the draft slot. We’ll be focusing primarily on the first round, except in cases when teams do not own a first-round selection.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    It’s unlikely that the Arizona Cardinals will actually go after Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick. Arizona just spent a first-round pick on Josh Rosen last year. Yet, we know that new head coach Kliff Kingsbury likes Murray a lot—prior to joining the Cardinals, he stated he’d use the first overall pick on him if he could—and there would almost certainly be a trade market for Rosen.

    This is exactly the idea that ESPN’s Adam Schefter floated during a recent appearance on Get Up!

    It would be surprising for the Cardinals to target Murray with Rosen already on board, but we’ve seen some pretty strange moves in the draft before. Completely ruling it out at this point would be premature.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons used a first-round pick on wide receiver Calvin Ridley in last year’s draft. Would they really use the 14th overall pick on a wide receiver like Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry in 2019?

    The Falcons can get out of Mohamed Sanu’s contract while paying just $2.8 million in guaranteed money. If they do, they could well be looking for a third receiver to partner with Ridley and Julio Jones. This would be a major surprise, but at least some out there believe Atlanta wants to add another top-tier receiver to the group.

    One sportsbook has the Falcons listed as the favorites to land Antonio Brown in the offseason.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens have a couple of quality running backs in Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards already on the roster. However, if Baltimore is truly going all-in on its run-first offense behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, adding a true workhorse running back to the backfield would make sense.

    This is where Alabama’s Josh Jacobs enters the equation. The underclassman has declared for the draft, and he’d give the Ravens the kind of powerful runner needed to vie with the likes of Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb in the AFC North.

    Adding Jacobs would be a surprise because running back isn’t a glaring need for Baltimore, but the idea of him leading a run-heavy attack is enticing.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills would probably be best suited to take a player at No. 9 who can help second-year quarterback Josh Allen. A wide receiver or an offensive tackle would make sense there, but what if the Bills instead targeted a playmaking safety like Alabama’s Deionte Thompson?

    Last season, guys like Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick showed just how big an impact first-year safeties can have on a defense. While adding Thompson wouldn’t directly aid in Allen’s development, it would help ease the pressure on him by strengthening the secondary and limiting the weight the quarterback would have to carry.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers used a first-round pick on former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey two years ago. In 2018, McCaffrey was one of the top workhorse backs in the NFL, amassing 1,098 yards rushing, 867 yards receiving and 13 total touchdowns. But what if the Panthers were to target a running back like Alabama’s Damien Harris at 16th overall?

    Adding Harris would give Carolina a solid complement to McCaffrey, lighten the third-year back’s workload and give the Panthers the kind of backfield duo the rival New Orleans Saints have had in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

    Surprising? Yes. A terrible idea? No.

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears don’t have a glaring need at wide receiver—not after acquiring Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last offseason while drafting Anthony Miller. However, this doesn’t mean Chicago shouldn’t plan for its future at wideout, and drafting a guy like Ohio State speedster Parris Campbell in the third round would be a good place to start.

    The Bears will likely part with Kevin White this offseason and can financially afford to part with Robinson next offseason if he continues to be injury-prone. Robinson was good, not great, when healthy, but he was rarely at 100 percent and missed three games because of injury. Adding Campbell would give Chicago a downfield threat to groom for Robinson’s possible departure.

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a Pro Bowler when he’s playing his best, and he has two years remaining on his contract. This is why it would be surprising to see the Bengals take a quarterback like Duke’s Daniel Jones with the 11th overall pick.

    But Cincinnati is set to hire a new head coach—likely Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor—and that head coach may want his own guy under center.

    While Dalton has led the Bengals to the postseason five different times, he never delivered a postseason win. If owner Mike Brown wants to change the perception of his franchise under the new coach, just getting to the postseason can no longer be enough.

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    Holly Hart/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns already have an up-and-coming star in tight end David Njoku. With bigger needs at offensive and defensive tackle, it would be a surprise for Cleveland to target another tight end like Iowa’s Noah Fant in the first round just two years after taking Njoku.

    However, it would make some sense. New head coach Freddie Kitchens, a former tight ends coach, regularly called pass plays out of multiple-tight-end sets in 2018. This often led to Baker Mayfield targeting primarily blocking tight ends like Orson Charles. Adding Fant would give Mayfield two elite pass-catchers at tight end and help Kitchens continue dialing up mismatches.

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    The Dallas Cowboys have invested heavily in the offensive line in recent years. Therefore, it would be a bit of a surprise to see them use their second-round pick on a center such as NC State’s Garrett Bradbury.

    However, it wouldn’t necessarily be a wrong move. The future surrounding Travis Frederick (Guillain-Barre syndrome) is uncertain, and Joe Looney is only a serviceable stand-in starter. The Cowboys do expect to have Frederick back at some point, possibly in the offseason.

    “He’s gotten stronger and stronger,” head coach Jason Garrett told reporters. “He’s worked very hard in the weight room to get himself back and we do anticipate him, if things continue the way they do, to be involved in our offseason program right from the get-go.”

    However, adding Bradbury would give the Cowboys a backup plan for Frederick and further depth along the interior of the line overall.

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Would the Denver Broncos really use a top-10 draft pick on a pass-rusher for the second year in a row? It would be surprising, but if Clemson star Clelin Ferrell is sitting there at No. 10, it may also be entirely plausible.

    Denver has tried using multiple pass-rushers in the rotation before, but players like Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett haven’t exactly worked out. If new head coach Vic Fangio decides to build his defense around a multifaceted pass rush, adding a guy like Ferrell to the mix of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb might just be the way to go.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions have bigger needs than wide receiver. They have a legitimate No. 1 in Kenny Golladay, and assuming Marvin Jones returns healthy, they have a solid No. 2. It would also be surprising to see defensive head coach Matt Patricia pass on defensive talent in this draft.

    However, adding a receiver like Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry at No. 8 would conceivably give the Lions the kind of firepower they need to challenge the defenses of the Bears and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.

    Playing Harry opposite Golladay on the outside would create plenty of mismatches and would potentially help Matthew Stafford return to being one of the top quarterbacks in the game.

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It would be surprising to see the Green Bay Packers take a tight end like Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. at the end of the first round. Green Bay already has Jimmy Graham, who is set to carry a cap hit of more than $12.6 million in 2019.

    However, adding Smith would also make a ton of sense. He would give Aaron Rodgers another premier red-zone target—a role Graham failed at in 2018—for next season, and he could take over for Graham in 2020.

    Graham is due to earn $11.7 million in 2020, but only $3.7 million of that is guaranteed.

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    It would be a bit surprising to see the Houston Texans take a wide receiver like Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf in the first round. Houston already has an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, a young up-and-comer in Will Fuller and a savvy veteran in Demaryius Thomas.

    However, adding a guy like Metcalf would give quarterback Deshaun Watson another reliable wideout to target downfield. Thomas, who is only under contract for one more season (with no guaranteed money), is a short-term solution at best. Metcalf, on the other hand, is a young receiver Watson could grow alongside for the foreseeable future.

    It might not be a total shock for Houston to go receiver, as both Fuller and Thomas are coming off season-ending injuries, but really, not going offensive line in Round 1 would be surprising. Watson was sacked a whopping 62 times in 2018.

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts used a first-round pick on safety Malik Hooker just two offseasons ago. This is why it would be a surprise for them to use another on Washington safety Taylor Rapp in 2019. However, there are reasons why the move makes sense.

    For one, Hooker has been a mixed bag in his two seasons as a pro. Indianapolis will have to decide after 2019 whether to exercise his fifth-year option. Adding Rapp would give the Colts a succession plan if the answer is no. Rapp is also a versatile defender who could play alongside Hooker at strong safety or in the slot if the former Ohio State star ends up panning out.

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    At this point, it would be a mild surprise if the Jacksonville Jaguars took anything other than a quarterback with the seventh overall pick. It would certainly be a surprise if they took a defensive tackle, as Jacksonville spent a first-round pick on Taven Bryan just last offseason.

    However, Houston’s Ed Oliver may prove to be too strong a talent to pass up if he falls to No. 7. While it’s too early to make a direct comparison, Oliver has the potential to be an Aaron Donald-type disruptor on the interior of a defensive line.

    Adding Oliver would likely mean parting with Marcell Dareus, but since Dareus has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract, this would be a possibility.

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    It would be surprising to see the Kansas City Chiefs draft a wide receiver like Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown at the bottom of Round 1. With guys like Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on the roster, receiver isn’t exactly the team’s biggest need.

    However, the Chiefs almost certainly want to keep their offensive juggernaut rolling in 2019. With wideout Chris Conley set to hit the open market, drafting a guy like Brown may be the safest way to ensure that happens.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    After the Los Angeles Chargers took safety Derwin James with the 17th overall pick in last year’s draft, it would be a bit surprising to see them take another safety with the 28th pick this year. However, there are reasons why adding Washington’s Taylor Rapp to the mix makes sense.

    For one, Rapp is a versatile defender who isn’t limited to only playing safety. He can cover receivers out of the slot, and he can move down into the box to attack the run. The Chargers could also lose safety Adrian Phillips in free agency, so drafting Rapp would give James the running mate in the secondary that he needs.

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams acquired cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib last offseason, which is why it would be surprising for them to use a first-round pick on another corner like Georgia’s Deandre Baker. However, the reality is that the duo of Peters and Talib hasn’t given L.A. a top-tier pass defense.

    As a team, the Rams allowed an average of 236.3 yards passing per game in the regular season, 14th in the NFL. Talib missed half the season because of injury, but even so, the presence of pass-rushers like Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh should give the Rams a better pass defense than 14th.

    Perhaps adding a guy like Baker on the back end would.

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Running back is not the biggest need for the Miami Dolphins. Therefore, it would be a bit surprising to see them draft one like Iowa State’s David Montgomery with the 13th overall pick.

    However, it wouldn’t be the most bizarre idea. The Dolphins do not have a true workhorse back on the roster. Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage have been good in spurts, but neither projects as an every-down back. This year’s leading rusher, Frank Gore, is scheduled to hit free agency, too.

    Miami’s new head coach—expected to be New England Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores—may want to build his own roster from the ground up. Given the re-emergence of the running back in today’s NFL, he may want to start with a guy like Montgomery.

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings used a first-round pick on cornerback Mike Hughes last offseason. They also have first-round corners Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes on the roster, so using a first-rounder on a cornerback like Washington’s Byron Murphy would be surprising.

    Yet, there’s a scenario where it would make a lot of sense. Waynes has been a good, not great, cornerback in his four seasons as a pro. Minnesota picked up his fifth-year option, but that deal is only guaranteed for injury. If the Vikings decide they can do better at cornerback than Waynes, they may well dump him and grab a guy like Murphy after all.

    A trio of Rhodes, Hughes and Murphy would be tremendous, and the Vikings would bypass the decision on Waynes’ future contract entirely.

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Drafting a quarterback to replace Tom Brady wouldn’t be a complete shock, as the New England Patriots are going to have to at some point.

    However, grabbing a guy like Missouri’s Drew Lock at the bottom of the first round would still be surprising. Brady is still playing at an extremely high level, and as long as New England remains a Super Bowl-caliber team, it makes more sense to select prospects who can help win now.

    Adding a wide receiver or tight end to help Brady would make more sense, but adding a quarterback would help prepare for Brady’s eventual departure.

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints don’t have a first-round selection because of the trade to acquire pass-rusher Marcus Davenport in last year’s draft. Seeing them use their second-round pick on a running back would be a bit surprising because of the presence of Alvin Kamara.

    Kamara showed during the first month of this season that he’s perfectly capable of serving as New Orleans’ workhorse back. However, he also appears most efficient when splitting time. With Mark Ingram set to become a free agent, Memphis’ Darrell Henderson would provide that complement. He isn’t quite the bruiser that Ingram has been, but he’s a shifty between-the-tackles runner who could be used interchangeably with or alongside Kamara.

    Running back is not New Orleans’ biggest need, but adding a guy like Henderson may prove to be its smartest surprise move.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    It wouldn’t be a total shock to see the New York Giants take a quarterback with the sixth overall pick. It would be equally unsurprising to see them take an offensive tackle to protect Eli Manning or an edge-rusher to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

    It would be more surprising to see New York target an off-ball linebacker like LSU’s Devin White. However, we’ve seen in recent years the importance of having a true sideline-to-sideline defender at the second level. Just look at the impact Leighton Vander Esch and Darius Leonard had as rookies in 2018.

    Adding a guy like White would do wonders for the Giants defense, even if the sixth overall spot seems a little high to take him.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The New York Jets, who allowed an average of 254.1 yards passing per game in 2018 (24th in the NFL), need help in the secondary. It would not be a surprise at all for them to select a cornerback at some point in the draft.

    Taking a guy like LSU’s Greedy Williams with the third overall pick, though, would be shocking. Given the bevy of talented defensive linemen and edge-rushers in this draft class, No. 3 feels like way too high to take a corner. However, we just saw the Browns draft a cornerback No. 4 overall in last year’s draft (Denzel Ward), and that decision paid off far more often than not.

    If the Jets are serious about fixing their pass defense, Williams may indeed be the target.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    We talked about the potential impact a linebacker like Devin White could have on a defense in the Giants section. We also discussed why picking an off-ball linebacker in the top 10 would be surprising. All of this holds true for the Oakland Raiders and the fourth overall selection, though for Oakland, it may actually be slightly less surprising.

    While positions like wide receiver and pass-rusher are bigger needs for the Raiders, Oakland is also armed with three first-round picks. If the top sack-artists are off the board by No. 4, grabbing White and targeting a pass-rusher with one of the later selections would actually make a lot of sense.

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    Holly Hart/Associated Press

    Why would drafting a tight end like Iowa’s Noah Fant be a surprise for the Philadelphia Eagles? Because the Eagles already have a star tight end in Zach Ertz.

    However, adding a guy like Fant wouldn’t be the most outlandish decision the Eagles could make. Let’s not forget that they relied on multiple-tight-end sets with Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton during their 2017 Super Bowl run with some success. They added Dalls Goedert in last year’s draft and could further get back to using multi-tight-end sets in 2019 by adding a guy like Fant to the offensive mix.

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers may be—and by all appearances, will be—without Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown next season. While these losses won’t necessarily signal a full-on rebuild, Pittsburgh does need to start considering its future without Ben Roethlisberger, who will be 37 next season and has contemplated retirement in the past.

    If the Steelers feel the end for Big Ben is sooner than later, a quarterback like West Virginia’s Will Grier at 20th overall would make some sense. It would still be a bit surprising, as Pittsburgh just used a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph last year, but Grier has the accuracy and the anticipation needed to keep Pittsburgh relevant in the next era of AFC North competition.

    Grier and Rudolph could compete to see who deserves to take the mantle from Big Ben.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    It would be a surprise for the San Francisco 49ers to use the second overall pick on a cornerback like Greedy Williams—not because he isn’t an elite prospect or because corner isn’t a position of need. It would be a surprise because a corner just shouldn’t go second overall in this draft.

    The 49ers could grab a pass-rusher like Josh Allen or a defensive tackle like Quinnen Williams in that slot. Either would provide better “draft value.” However, if San Francisco is sold on Williams and determined to find a running mate for Richard Sherman—and that’s a big if, as the 49ers actually ranked 11th against the pass in 2018—there’s no real reason to get cute and bypass the selection because of outside perception.

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    David Stephenson/Associated Press

    Wide receiver isn’t the biggest need for the Seattle Seahawks, so drafting a guy like Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf would be a bit surprising in the first round. Seattle already has quality receivers in Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett and would be better served targeting the offensive line or a tight end at No. 21 overall.

    Yet, if the Seahawks are hoping to complete the transition to being an offensive team, grabbing a wideout just might be the move to make. With Chris Carson and the Seahawks running game rolling, it would be extremely difficult for opposing defenses to also slow a trio of Baldwin, Lockett and Metcalf in any given game.

    Russell Wilson is clearly the heart and soul of this franchise, and getting him receiving help could never be a bad idea—even if it is a surprising one.

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    There are two reasons why adding Alabama running back Josh Jacobs with the fifth overall pick would be surprising for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first is that No. 5 appears to be far too high in this draft to take a running back. The second is that Tampa just used a second-round pick on USC product Ronald Jones last year.

    However, Jones was a major disappointment as a rookie (just 44 yards and one touchdown), so he shouldn’t even factor into the equation. Also, if the Buccaneers are convinced Jacobs can have a Todd Gurley-like impact on their offense, there’s no reason not to scoop him up at No. 5.

    Adding Jacobs could give recently hired head coach Bruce Arians his new version of David Johnson with which to work.

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    It would be surprising to see the Tennessee Titans go after a wideout like Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler in the first round because Tennessee just used a first-round pick on Corey Davis two offseasons ago. At the same time, it would make some sense, as quarterback Marcus Mariota doesn’t have many reliable options after Davis.

    Running back Dion Lewis finished second on the team behind Davis with 59 receptions. Taywan Taylor finished second in receiving yards with just 466. Tight end Delanie Walker should return after missing most of 2018 with a broken ankle, but Tennessee is severely lacking in outside receiving talent.

    It would be surprising to see the Titans use a first-round pick on a receiver so soon after spending one on Davis, but it would also benefit Mariota and his development.

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    Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins need to figure out a plan at quarterback for 2019. Alex Smith and Colt McCoy suffered broken legs in 2018, and Smith’s legitimately seems career-threatening. At the very least, the Redskins cannot assume Smith will be healthy to start the season.

    Grabbing a quarterback such as Will Grier with the 15th overall pick would make sense, though it would also be a surprise. This is because the Redskins should have McCoy to start the season, and they still owe Smith $42 million in guaranteed money.

    Could Washington justify using its first-rounder on a quarterback when Smith is on the books for so much? Given the rookie wage scale, it’s possible. Last year’s 15th overall pick, Kolton Miller, signed a four-year deal worth just over $13.4 million. That’s backup quarterback money, and it could make having both Grier and Smith on the roster feasible.

         

    *All contract information via Spotrac.

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Chasing Nancy Pelosi’s bus to nowhere

Air Force Bus

A U.S. Air Force bus parks on the Capitol Plaza after being called back following President Donald Trump’s decision to scrap Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s foreign travel. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Congress

Top House lawmakers learned of Trump’s sudden verdict to ground their military jet to Afghanistan while sitting in a tinted bus on the Capitol grounds, surrounded by a horde of journalists.

Some lawmakers had already boarded the large blue bus, emblazoned with the U.S. Air Force logo and the words “Integrity, Service, Excellence,” when President Donald Trump put a swift end to it all.

Parked outside the Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday, they were prepared to slip out of town quietly on a military jet for a secret trip to visit troops in a Middle East war zone.

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It soon became a bus to nowhere.

Day 27 of the nation’s longest government shutdown had some of the House’s most powerful leaders — their party back in control for the first time in eight years — sitting on a tinted bus surrounded by a cloud of confusion. The standoff between the nation’s two most powerful politicians had just sunk even lower with a dramatic act by a defiant president.

The congressional delegation, or CODEL as it’s known, was supposed to be led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who on Wednesday requested the president postpone his State of the Union address amid the ongoing partial government shutdown. A group of seven lawmakers, along with top staffers, was headed to Brussels to meet with NATO commanders and then to Afghanistan to visit U.S. military leaders and troops.

Pelosi’s office did not give details about the trip publicly in order to protect her and other lawmakers’ safety. CODELs traditionally are announced shortly after the lawmakers arrive overseas.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) spilled some of the beans to reporters earlier in the day, criticizing the speaker for taking a trip to Brussels while the government remains partially shuttered with 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or working without pay.

For more than 24 hours, Trump had maintained unusual discipline in not responding to Pelosi’s move to reschedule or cancel his formal State of the Union address in the House chamber.

The president’s strike back landed in reporters’ inboxes just after 2 p.m., postponing the trip less than an hour before lawmakers were scheduled to leave the Capitol. “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” said the president, who visited troops in a different war zone — Iraq — just a few days after the shutdown began in December.

Pelosi’s office learned from reporters about the president’s letter to her.

At the time, the delegation’s mode of transportation to Joint Base Andrews — the Air Force bus — was parked outside the Rayburn building on the south side of Capitol.

It eventually made its way to the east front of the Capitol building, where reporters chased after it and, after it parked, tried to identify the lawmakers on board through the tinted windows.

At least three dozen journalists were accompanying the bus as it made its journey around the Capitol complex, while Capitol Police officers kept them at bay and instructed anxious gawkers to stay behind the group of reporters.

Wide-eyed tourists were taking photos of the bus on their smartphones, suspecting someone important was on board. One reporter grabbed a shared electric scooter and rode toward the bus, leaving everyone else in the dust.

Soon, officers escorted bomb-sniffing dogs around the press, a common security practice on Capitol Hill when television equipment is being used.

The crowd began to dwindle as two large buses carrying Republican senators from their retreat arrived on the Senate side, spurring reporters to sprint in the opposite direction to speak with them.

Still, the CODEL’s lawmakers and their staffers were not getting off the bus.

“This is ridiculous,” one reporter said. “What are we even doing?”

The stunned officials were trying to understand whether their trip really was canceled. Phone calls and messages were flying between those on the bus and officials inside the Capitol, according to aides.

Suddenly, the bus started rolling to the Senate side of the Capitol. It left the Capitol complex and drove slowly in front of the Supreme Court.

Less than five minutes later, the bus was in front of the House chamber again, stunning the jacket-less reporters, photographers and camera operators who were almost sweating in 35-degree weather chasing after the bus. The lawmakers eventually got off the bus but wouldn’t comment extensively on the situation.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a perennial Trump critic, was among the lawmakers on the bus. He was joined by Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel of New York, Mark Takano of California, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Susan Davis of California and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.

“This is obviously an action directed at the speaker,” Schiff told reporters after exiting the bus. “And we think, as far as we can tell, this has never happened in the annals of congressional history.”

As he slipped into Pelosi’s office, the bus remained parked outside the House chamber, leaving reporters wondering: Could the trip be back on?

That prospect was soon dashed. The bus rolled away just after 5 p.m., as did any hope that a fruitful behind-the-scenes negotiation with the White House would emerge.

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