Geovany Soto

Why Rick Renteria would be OK with bringing back current, young White Sox catchers

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USA TODAY

Why Rick Renteria would be OK with bringing back current, young White Sox catchers

CLEVELAND -- His young catchers have made enough gains this season with game calling that Rick Renteria isn’t sure if he’d want to add a veteran backstop for 2018.

The White Sox intended for veteran Geovany Soto to be their primary catcher this season with Omar Narvaez serving as his backup. Consecutive elbow injuries for Soto wiped those plans out early in the season and forced the White Sox to employ Narvaez and rookie Kevan Smith, who collectively had almost no big-league experience. But after nearly a full season of learning the league, Renteria said he’s on board if the White Sox decide to bring back Smith and Narvaez again in 2018.

“I would not be uncomfortable taking these same two guys again in the coming year and allow them to continue to grow with those guys that we have because they’ve actually gained some ground in understand what they’re doing,” Renteria said. “Might as well not waste this thing that we’ve been able to gain because of what’s occurred over this season.”

Narvaez entered the season with 34 career games played, including 30 starts. Smith had six games behind the plate with three starts. The loss of Soto to elbow surgery in May put the White Sox in a difficult spot.

“It’s very tough because we play 162 games and these guys have to learn,” bullpen catcher Mark Salas said. “Granted, we play them three in a row, maybe four, and you try to learn the guys. But it’s easier with the Central guys because we play them so much. But Anaheim, we haven’t played them in three months and it’s a process going over them again and getting the feel, seeing what they’ve got and go with that.”

The process has many facets for the young catchers to decipher.

Smith and Narvaez must be totally familiar with their own pitchers and their strengths and weaknesses. Then comes preparation for each opposing hitter and knowing their strengths and weaknesses. The catchers, pitching coach Don Cooper and the pitchers then overlay the two sides to provide a rough game plan. But even then, other factors must be considered, including how that day’s pitcher is throwing.

Smith mentioned that one advantage of game-calling in the majors versus the minors is the consistency of the lineup.

“When you start seeing these teams over and over it’s not like the minor leagues where it might be a new team the next time you face them just because of callups or guys getting sent down,” Smith said. “You can kind of start predetermining a game plan with the guys you’re going to catch against that series and kind of seeing how those guys strengths match up against (hitters) weaknesses. It just puts your mind at ease a little bit and lets you go out and play and kind of slows the game down for you.”

A season’s worth of learning has considerably helped both Narvaez and Smith. Soto has aided the process when he could, specifically being available on the bench at the majority of the team’s home games for counsel. James Shields and Mike Pelfrey have also offered the input only a veteran pitcher can supply.

Salas is hopeful that next season Cooper would feel comfortable enough to allow either catcher to lead a pregame meeting as the White Sox discuss their strategy. Given how Renteria feels, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

“What these two have done over the last three-and-a-half, four months is actually on-the-job training,” Renteria said. “The biggest thing is how they’re going to be able to take a young staff in certain situations and get better and understand how to make adjustments.

“That’s been a huge gain for us.”

Geovany Soto details ‘total destruction’ of Puerto Rico after speaking with family

Geovany Soto details ‘total destruction’ of Puerto Rico after speaking with family

Geovany Soto’s family in Puerto Rico is safe after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island, leaving at least 24 people dead and virtually all residents without power.

The White Sox catcher said he spoke to his family Wednesday on the phone and they were in good spirits. Soto’s mom, dad and in-laws are in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while his wife and kids are with him in the U.S.

Soto said it’s “total destruction” on the island right now, and the best thing he can do to assist is sending necessary items.

“It’s really tough,” Soto said. “I talked to my parents and the toughest part is you have the money, you can buy batteries but there’s nothing left. So, the best thing I could probably do is kind of from over here is sending batteries, sending anything that I can think of that’s valuable for them right now.” 

Puerto Rico is still in emergency protocol as rescue efforts continue two days after the storm plowed onto land as a Category 4 hurricane. Just seeing the images was hard for Soto. 

"It was unbelievable," he said "You know it’s coming. It’s an island. It’s not like you can evacuate and go where? We don’t have a road that goes to Florida. It is what it is. We try to do the best that we can do with the preparation that they gave us. After you’ve done everything you just kind of brace yourself and keep good spirits and hope for the best."

Soto usually travels to Puerto Rico after the season, but because of the damage, he has yet to make a decision on when, or if, he'll go. 

The veteran catcher is the only Puerto Rican player on the Sox, but manager Rick Renteria's wife also has family on the island. 

"They're doing fine, thankfully," Renteria said. "I think that we expect to hear a little bit more in the next couple days."

With family members in its path, many White Sox players keep close eye on Hurricane Irma

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With family members in its path, many White Sox players keep close eye on Hurricane Irma

Many eyes in the White Sox clubhouse will be focused on Hurricane Irma the next few days as several players’ family members are in the direct path of the record-breaking storm.

While his wife and children are in Chicago, the rest of catcher Geovany Soto’s family was already feeling the impact of the Category 5 storm by Wednesday afternoon in Puerto Rico. Manager Rick Renteria said some of his in-laws also reside in Puerto Rico. Reliever Juan Minaya’s family also is in the projected path of the storm, which is expected to reach the Dominican Republic sometime Thursday. Renteria said the White Sox will monitor the situation for now and act if necessary.

“We're all cognizant of the realities of life and the things that are really important,” Renteria said. “There are going to be a lot of people keeping track.

“I'm sure that anybody who has family anywhere that's being stricken by something that could be devastating, you'd want to be with them. There are certain logistics that probably won't allow that. I'm sure they're in motion, that their minds and their hearts are with their families. They wouldn't be human if they weren't feeling those things. I think we all deal with it in our own way and if there's a situation that occurs here we'll deal with it when we have to.”

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Soto spoke to his family several times throughout the day, most recently at 2 p.m. (CST). Soto said his parents, uncles, sisters, nieces and nephews hadn’t had power since 9 a.m. and had begun to see wind damage as early as 11 a.m. even though the storm hadn’t made landfall.

Soto was 6 when Hurricane Hugo slammed Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean in 1989. He knows Puerto Rico has been mostly lucky over the years and just hopes for the best possible outcome.

“It’s something that you really can’t control,” Soto said. “We want to believe that it’s out of our reach and just pray for safety and minimum damage.

“Keep praying for my family back at home.”

The White Sox have a number of players who reside in the Dominican Republic, but Minaya’s northern town of Puerta Plata is most directly in the hurricane’s path. The reliever said he lives about a 20-minute walk from the ocean and even closer to a river. His parents, brother, two sisters and nephews have decided to ride out the storm because they’re worried about looters.

Minaya said his family plans to stay together in a concrete house and expects to lose power at any point.

“The communication is going to be bad,” Minaya said. “If the hurricane goes like we’re seeing now, terrible.

“I’m very worried because my family is there.”