Cubs

Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

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Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
Posted 6:37 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Geovany Soto looked around the room and realized how much things had changed. Theres no Moises Alou, no Henry Blanco, no Sammy Sosa or his boom box.

At 28, Soto may feel a little older, but insists that hes in great physical shape. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September and is working out at Fitch Park without any restrictions.

The Cubs described it as a routine procedure, and Soto said it only shaved off a little bit of the bone, without touching any ligaments or muscles. That is part of the normal wear and tear on a homegrown catcher whos entering his 11th season in the organization.

With that comes status, and Soto expects to be a more vocal leader this season, a more visible presence in the clubhouse.

We need to pick it up, he said. Last year we had all kinds of problems. I dont have any problem with taking charge and telling anybody theyre slacking.

Soto does not exclude himself from that assessment. Hes been told how great he is after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008. Months later, he went through the embarrassment of a failed drug test at the World Baseball Classic. Last offseason he changed his diet and remade his body.

It paid off last year: Sotos .890 OPS was higher than any other major-league catcher with at least 300 at-bats. He hit .280 with 17 homers and 53 RBI in 105 games. Hes also drawn praise for how he handles a pitching staff, as someone who doesnt care if he goes 0-for-4 that day.

Soto was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York as a young boy, and then moved back to San Juan before being chosen in the 11th round of the 2001 draft. He moves easily through the different groups in the clubhouse.

The fact that hes bilingual its like having a manager on the field, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. Its another quality as a leader, (but) hes just a guy that people gravitate to.

Fleita has stressed the importance of learning English to younger catchers like Welington Castillo, who regularly consults with Soto. They ask Soto about little things, like whether or not they can wear a fleece to the workout. In meetings, bullpen sessions and two different languages, Soto goes between the coaches and pitchers, relaying their thoughts on mechanics.

Its a little bit difficult for us, the Latin players, Castillo said. (But) you got to adapt to this country. This is our dream and we got to play for it and fight for it.

If Mike Quade has one regret its getting his degree in business not Spanish from the University of New Orleans. He also managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and watched the catcher develop up close.

Whether its Venezuela or Dominican, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Quade said, theres a mutual respect going around all over the place. (Sotos) huge in that and thats an evolving thing with him. It doesnt become a rah-rah thing or a guy thats teaching all the time. I always think that gets a little bit overplayed. You lead by example and you lead by experience.

It did not go unnoticed that the Cubs recently rewarded another homegrown player. They bought out Carlos Marmols first year of free agency with a three-year, 20 million deal. Soto got a huge raise to 3 million this year and is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons. He could be in line for an extension.

That sort of stuff (can) get your attention, Soto said. As a ballplayer, you know thats there. But you also need to come to the field every day and just worry about whatever you can control. You can control getting here early. You can control the hustle. You can control good attitude. Whatever plays out, plays out.

Maybe it ends like this: The next wave of Cubs standing around their lockers explaining what Soto meant to them.

It feels kind of good that Ive stuck around this (long), Soto said. Hopefully (its) for 20 more years.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Why Joe Maddon sees Anthony Rizzo coming out of his slump

Why Joe Maddon sees Anthony Rizzo coming out of his slump

CLEVELAND — It goes down as two line drives in the scorebook.

Anthony Rizzo has been mired in a season-long slump (OK, that's a little dramatic given it's still not even May yet and he missed more than a week with a back injury), but he may be showing signs of getting out of it thanks to a couple of weak groundballs.

Rizzo finished Tuesday's 10-3 win over the Indians with two hits in his final two at-bats, though one hit barely made it past the pitcher's mound and the other barely made it to the outfield grass.

In fact, Rizzo's exit velocities on both balls combined was 109.2 mph, or 8 mph less than Kyle Schwarber's 117 mph homer in the second inning Tuesday.

So how can a 35.5 mph jam-shot with a hit probability of 8 percent get a player like Rizzo going?

It's all about the hands.

"When I was a hitting coach, I swear, if one of my better hitters got jammed his first at-bat, I went up to him and I said, 'I promise that's at least two line drives tonight,'" Joe Maddon relayed before Wednesday's game.

"My explanation of getting jammed is that you make a mistake with your bottom hand. Your bottom hand gets too far out, you expose the weak part of the bat to the ball, thus you get jammed. That's not a bad way to go. 

"But if you're always coming open too soon, exposing the fatter part of the bat to that particular pitch, eventually they're going to go further away. So anything you hit well is gonna be a foul ball more than likely or rolled over. So this is a better method to go — staying inside the ball, getting the head of the bat there."

Maddon pointed to how Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and how they made/make a living based off keeping their hands inside a ball and driving it to center or the other way.

That's what Maddon wants to see from not just Rizzo, but all the Cubs hitters. It's what the manager has been preaching all season, especially the last week or so, as the Cubs have seen better offensive results.

The Cubs entered play Wednesday winners of four of their last five games while the offense has cruised to a .342 average and 9 runs/game in that span. 

However, they've been doing a lot of that while Rizzo still doesn't look like Rizzo. 

He went on the disabled list with a .107 batting average and though he raised it 67 points in the six games since returning from injury, it was with only a modest .240 average in the last week with zero extra-base hits. Rizzo has just one extra-base hit on the season — a homer in the very first game of the season on March 29.

For a guy that's been remarkably consistent in his career, you can bet on Rizzo's numbers normalizing in the long run, which would be a big boost to a Cubs team currently without Kris Bryant.

And maybe it really will be a ball off the fists that traveled roughly 75 feet that gets Rizzo in a groove.

Cubs are still without Kris Bryant, but insist there's no need to worry

Cubs are still without Kris Bryant, but insist there's no need to worry

CLEVELAND — The Cubs will play a second straight game without Kris Bryant, but that doesn't mean fans should start panicking.

Bryant hasn't played since getting hit in the head in the top of the first inning in Sunday's game with a 96 mph fastball.

Bryant has been cleared by doctors in Colorado and Cleveland and will meet with the Cubs team doctor Thursday in Chicago. 

The Cubs kept their MVP third baseman out of the lineup Tuesday to give him an extra day of rest, initially hoping he'd be back Wednesday before deciding Tuesday night they should give him another day.

"He's not bad, he's fine," Joe Maddon said. "It's just one of those things. He's been seeing the doctors. There's nothing awful. It's just a matter of getting him ready to play.

"I'm not hearing anything bad. Not at all. I really anticipate good soon. If anything went the other way, I think we'd be surprised."

Head injuries are very tricky and sometimes symptoms can show up days after the initial trauma. That doesn't appear to be the case here with Bryant, but the Cubs also don't want him to rush back until he's ready physically, mentally and emotionally.

The key word there is "trauma," because it was a traumatic experience for Bryant and something he'll have to come to terms with mentally before he can step back in that batter's box.

"Sometimes that's necessary," Maddon said. "Again, he got hit, I didn't. I'm listening to him right now. So whatever he says, I'm very amenable to right now. 

"I could sense [Tuesday] he wasn't quite ready. ... I don't anticipate any long delay."

The Cubs started Tommy La Stella for a second straight game Wednesday in Bryant's place. La Stella played third base Tuesday and was originally slotted for the same spot Wednesday before a last-minute change moved him to second with Javy Baez playing the hot corner.