Cubs

Cubs need Soto to come back even stronger

Cubs need Soto to come back even stronger

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Posted: 9:12 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON The look Carlos Zambrano gave Geovany Soto said it all: What are you doing here?

To the 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field and everyone watching at home it appeared as if the Cubs were discussing strategy on the mound. This was 2008 late in Sotos Rookie of the Year campaign and already he had a sense of the moment and a gift for putting people at ease.

The catcher didnt plan it. He just started moving his mouth without making any actual sounds.

I had nothing to say to him, Soto recalled. I just wanted to go out there and calm him down. I just didnt know how to. So I (figured): Let me see if he can laugh at this.

Soto hasnt used the mime trick again, but he will have to be creative as the Cubs try to weather the storm and keep their pitching staff together after the injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.

Sotos job is to keep Zambrano focused and get Matt Garza up to speed on the National Leagues hitters.

Its on Soto to prepare James Russell for his first big-league start and guide three relievers Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Stevens and Marcos Mateo who combined have a little more than a year of major-league service time.

Theres Soto blocking another darting slider from Carlos Marmol with the game on the line.

(Geos) awesome, Wells said. Hes constantly (chatting). You always feel like hes in the game and you always feel like hes out there with your best interests in mind.

Soto has earned the pitchers respect by doing his homework, gathering as much information as he can each day. You cant buy those relationships or his status in the clubhouse.

As much as anyone, the 28-year-old Soto is a billboard for the organizations player-development model, an infielder signed out of Puerto Rico and converted into an All-Star catcher.

Welington Castillo, the systems 23-year-old catching prospect, has looked promising. But with another big season, Soto could be in line to talk about an extension that would buy out his two remaining years of arbitration.

Soto has already gone through what Cashner, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are facing as second-year players. There will be increased expectations and demands on their time. The novelty will begin to wear off.

Its a learning process, Soto said. (You) take the positive stuff out learn the lesson so you dont make the same mistakes.

Soto answered any lingering questions about his maturity last season by generating 17 homers, 53 RBI and an .890 OPS that led all catchers in the majors with at least 300 at-bats.

But his impact goes beyond the box score, as a patient hitter who sees a lot of pitches and will no doubt produce more than the .182 average he woke up with on Tuesday morning.

A 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pound man who has dealt with some weight issues in the past even moves well on the bases.

Ive said this for years and people laugh at me but one of the best baserunners on this club is my catcher, manager Mike Quade said. He gets great secondary leads. He has good instincts. (You) watch a deep fly ball to right-center that may or may not be caught and instinctively hes at the bag and ready to roll.

Quade once managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and thinks the catcher is throwing as well as he has in years.

Thats a byproduct of the shoulder surgery he underwent last September. This is usually when he would start to feel roughed up after the long spring training and the grind of getting used to playing again every day.

In one answer, Soto described the feeling in his right arm as great, unbelievable and awesome.

That attitude is why teammates are drawn to Soto. They listen, even when he doesnt say anything.

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: Cardinals Scouting Report with Chris Rongey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cardinals Scouting Report with Chris Rongey

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by Chris Rongey, host at 101 ESPN in St. Louis, to take a closer look at the arch-rival Cardinals. The pair discusses the ramifications of the rumored Paul Goldschmidt extension (2:30), the pressure on the Cardinals to get back to the playoffs (6:30), the potential of Jack Flaherty (10:30), and Kris Bryant's inflammatory comments about St. Louis at Cubs Convention (13:45).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player:

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Cardinals

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AP

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Cardinals

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

St. Louis Cardinals

2018 record: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

Offseason additions: Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew Miller, Matt Wieters, Chris Beck, Drew Robinson

Offseason departures: Luke Weaver, Tyson Ross, Bud Norris, Matt Adams, Carson Kelly, Patrick Wisdom

X-factor: Marcell Ozuna

The Cardinals traded for Ozuna last winter, expecting to get the hitter that just put up 37 homers, 124 RBI, a .924 OPS and hit .312 while coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances.

Instead, they got a solid hitter who was only slightly above average (106 OPS+) and saw a major dip in power (23 homers, 88 RBI). 

Which player is the real Marcell Ozuna?

He's still only 28 and is a free agent after this season. The Cardinals are counting on him to be one of their big bats in the middle of the lineup, likely hitting cleanup and lending protection to Goldschmidt.

We know Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter are going to hit if they're healthy and we know guys like Paul DeJong, Yadi Molina, Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader will be thorns in the Cubs' side at various points in 2019. But we don't know what type of player Ozuna will be.

You could say the same thing about Dexter Fowler, who has hit just .230 with a .739 OPS in a Cardinals uniform after signing an $82.5 million deal with the organization before the 2017 season. He still has three years left on his contract and if he can't regain his form, will the Cardinals be forced to stick a guy making more than $16 million a year on the bench in favor of better offensive options Jose Martinez or Tyler O'Neill?

Projected lineup

1. Matt Carpenter - 3B
2. Paul DeJong - SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
4. Marcell Ozuna - LF
5. Dexter Fowler - RF
6. Yadier Molina - C
7. Kolten Wong - 2B
8. Harrison Bader - CF

Projected rotation

1. Miles Mikolas
2. Jack Flaherty
3. Adam Wainwright
4. Michael Wacha
5. Dakota Hudson

Outlook

The last time the Cardinals were in the playoffs, they watched as Javy Baez sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy with a blast to the right-centerfield bleachers. That 3-run shot came off John Lackey and both he and Jason Heyward had yet to don a Cubs uniform. Only one pitcher that threw for the Cubs in that game is still on the team (Pedro Strop).

Oh yeah, and the Cubs were still a year away from winning their first championship in more than a century.

In other words: It was a long time ago. It feels like a lifetime given how often the Cardinals were in the postseason prior to 2016.

So yeah, this organization and their fanbase are hungry as hell to get back to October. They proved that this winter.

The Cardinals didn't make a ton of moves over the offseason, but the decisions they made are very impactful — trading for Goldschmidt and signing Miller and Wieters.

Then they went out and reportedly extended Goldschmidt through the 2024 season. He is one of the best players in the NL and brings a legitimate stud to the middle of the lineup. Now the Cubs are forced to face him 19 times a season for at least the next half-decade and he carries a .353/.471/.699 slash line (1.170 OPS) against Chicago pitching in 43 career games. (The somewhat good news is that Goldschmidt also tears up Brewers pitching to the tune of a .366/.478/.652 slash line in 46 career games.)

Miller had a rough 2018 season, sporting a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching only 34 innings due to injuries. But he's still only 33 and was arguably the best reliever in the game from 2014-17 when he posted a 1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14.5 K/9 in 260 appearances. If he's even close to that pitcher again, that's a huge stabilizing force at the back end of the Cardinals bullpen. However, he's had a really rough go of it in spring training thus far:

Wieters has never turned into the star many were expecting him to become, but he'll be good depth for St. Louis behind Molina.

This offense should be just fine, especially once Jedd Gyorko returns from injury and if they can somehow find a way to get Martinez and O'Neill in the lineup often.

The defense is also going to be great, with speedster Bader chasing everything down in the outfield and Molina/Wong/DeJong up the middle.

The pitching staff is where most of the questions lie. 

Carlos Martinez has been their ace in the past, but he experienced shoulder issues this spring and it's unknown how much time he'll miss or if he'll be a starter or reliever when he returns. He only pitched 118.2 innings last year due to the same injury.

Veteran relievers Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson are also both dealing with arm injuries and not expected to be in the Opening Day bullpen.

Miles Mikolas was an incredible find for the Cardinals last year and after a fantastic season (18-4, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), they made sure to lock him up for another four years. 23-year-old Jack Flaherty was a Top-50 prospect entering 2018 and exploded onto the MLB scene with a very good season that included a ridiculous 10.8 K/9 rate. He looks like a potential Cy Young contender this year and gives the Cardinals a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation even without Martinez.

After that, however, it's up in the air. Adam Wainwright is 37, Michael Wacha has been injured/inconsistent and rookie Dakota Hudson (just named the team's fifth starter Thursday) has only 27.1 MLB innings under his belt.

Meanwhile, in the bullpen, 22-year-old Jordan Hicks is looking like the closer with his 100+ mph fastball, but he also has some control issues (5.2 BB/9 in his rookie season) and blew more games (7) than he saved (6) last year. After him and Miller, there's a hodge podge of unproven guys like John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, Chasen Shreve and others. Former top prospect Alex Reyes is looming as a potential X-factor in the bullpen, but he has pitched only 27 innings since he had Tommy John surgery after the 2016 season.

Expect this to be a three-team race in the NL Central all year and it would not be at all surprising to see the Cardinals on top come October. 

But for now, I'll put them just behind the Cubs only because I have question marks about their outfielders (Ozuna and Fowler) and some of their pitching. I also think the Cubs have more depth than any team in the division and are better built for the marathon that is a 162-game season.

Prediction: 2nd in NL Central, wild-card team

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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