Cubs

Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

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Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

Monday, Sept. 6, 2010
Updated 6:50 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Geovany Soto pointed at the board in the Cubs clubhouse and announced: That is not a misprint. He smiled as he walked away on Monday morning, turning his back and flexing his arms above his head.

Minutes later, a teammate looked at the posted lineup card that had the catcher batting fourth, and a confused look spread across his face: Soto? Really?

It doesnt matter to Soto where he hits now, even if the team is no longer anchored by Derrek Lee, and is trying to compensate for a diminished Aramis Ramirez. Coming into 2010, the Cubs couldnt be certain what they had in Soto, and they have struggled with run production for almost the entire season.

But by Labor Day, weve learned that Soto is profiling much closer to the player who was the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008. The 27-year-old has distanced himself from last years disappointing line: .218 average11 homers47 RBI.

After rededicating himself back home in Puerto Rico, he transformed a body he described as fat, shedding weight down to a number thats listed at 218 pounds.

After last season I looked myself in the mirror, Soto said. I needed to make some adjustments and pick it up. I worked hard and now its paying off. Hopefully it will keep paying off.

The dividends could be seen as Sotos game-winning shot traveled out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue. The solo home run with two outs in the eight inning cemented Mondays 5-4 comeback victory over the Houston Astros in front of 31,647 fans.

The Cubs (60-78) have conceded almost the entire second half of the season to player development. All the rookies in the room could probably learn something about consistency and professionalism from Soto, who looks like hes beginning to figure it out himself.

Hes a lot tougher than people know, manager Mike Quade said. Hes getting himself back to where he was his rookie year.

Soto stood his ground in the fourth inning, when Michael Bourn sprinted home on a groundball to third. Jeff Baker threw home, and Bourn was in Sotos airspace before the catcher could fully brace himself.

Bourn ran Soto over, but the catcher held onto the ball after the collision, making sure the Astros (64-73) didnt add an extra run to their 4-3 lead. Soto got up and continued to guide Casey Coleman through the fourth big-league start of his career. The 23-year-old right-hander walked five and gave up four runs in the second, but that was it as he lasted for six innings.

The goal is to keep the team in the game, Coleman said. You got to be able to move on. You got to be able to put some zeroes up. Even though it was a struggle, (Soto) settled me down, the defense made a few nice plays and the offense stepped up and really bailed me out.

As a group, the pitchers like working with Soto, who played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa in 2005 and 2006. But Soto didnt break out until his Pacific Coast League MVP season of 2007, which he finished with a .353 average, 26 homers and 109 RBI and playoff starts for the Cubs.

Soto did a really nice job for me, but didnt put up the offensive numbers, Quade said. He always blocked well. His throwing was ok. He called a good game. I liked everything about him defensively.

But offensively you were kind of wondering how good he was going to be or what he was going to be. At that position, he didnt need to hit .320 with 40 home runs. But you werent quite sure how we could (fit him in).

Soto recently dealt with shoulder and knee issues that have limited his numbers, but hes still on pace to be among the most productive catchers in baseball (.2841751 through 97 games). If he stays healthy and in the right frame of mind, that would be one less thing for the front office to worry about during what promises to be a long offseason.

I try to play hard, Soto said. I try to play the game the right way, even if its a blowout or a one-run game. Put it that way Im not selfish. Ill take a walk and just do anything to help my teammates out.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”