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: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

nick_castellanos.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

The long off-season for the Cubs continues as they haven't made any significant moves so far and have watched players from last year's roster move on. Host David Kaplan is joined by NBC Sports Chicago producers Jeff Nelson and Nate Poppen as they discuss the lack luster off-season, expectations fans should have, Kaplan gives an exclusive update on the Kris Bryant grievance and the chances that the NL adopts the designated hitter.

(1:21) - Cubs have done nothing but watch players leave this off-season

(5:49) - The current roster is still pretty good

(8:55) - Kaplan gives exclusive update on Kris Bryant grievance

(11:12) - The Cubs still have a chance to win the division

(13:56) - What should Cubs fans expect this season

(16:12) - How does the designated hitter in the NL in 2021 effect the Cubs?

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

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Cubs looking to unearth core relievers with low-cost, high-upside acquisitions

Cubs looking to unearth core relievers with low-cost, high-upside acquisitions

The Cubs bullpen is going to look a whole lot different this season.

Gone are the reliable Steve Cishek (signed with White Sox) and Brandon Kintzler (reportedly signed with Marlins). Pedro Strop remains a free agent, though a recent report said the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

Assuming Strop doesn’t return, the Cubs will have lost three of their four most frequently used relievers from 2019. Replacing the trio will be no small task, considering a bulk of their appearances came in late-inning, high-leverage spots.

Cishek and Kintzler didn’t sign back-breaking deals (one-year, $6 million; reported one-year, $3.25 million), but the luxury tax has been a factor in the Cubs offseason. They aren’t in a position to commit big money to top-of-the-market arms and have instead been stockpiling low-cost relievers with upside.

“It’s become such an unbelievably important and difficult part of our job,” general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention of assembling a bullpen. “It wasn’t that long ago that we’d go into a season and our goal would be ‘Hey, can we get a thousand innings out of our starting pitching staff?’ You think about your five starters, if you could get some combination of close to a thousand innings, that was always a goal, out of roughly 1,400 innings.

“And now, that’s gone away. You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers. It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"You've got to take a lot of chances. There's no more volatile aspect of the game than the bullpen, and that's league wide. You’ve got to constantly take chances on guys and realize that sometimes, what appears to be a guy that’s struggling may just be simply a bad seven innings or bad 10 innings.”

Volatility was a main theme of the Cubs bullpen in 2019. Strop is one of the best relievers in team history, but early season hamstring injuries impacted his performance — a 4.97 ERA and 1.27 WHIP were the worst figures of his Cubs career. Strop finished the season strong (2.00 ERA in September), though he was largely a low-leverage option by season’s end.

Meanwhile, the additions of Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick last offseason didn’t make waves among the fanbase. The former signed a major league deal after a solid 2018 season with Triple-A Iowa, and the Cubs acquired the latter in a low-key November trade. Both emerged as key contributors in 2019.

“Rowan Wick was a good example,” Hoyer said. “When we traded for him and we got him into the pitch lab and we improved his curveball, I think that had an enormous impact on his year last year. Brad Wieck, we traded for and immediately made some adjustments. Our pro scouting staff does a good job with that.”

Ryan and Wick are two of only three locks for the Opening Day bullpen, along with closer Craig Kimbrel. Wieck, acquired at the trade deadline for Carl Edwards Jr., is potentially another. That leaves five, maybe four spots up for grabs in what will be an open competition in spring training. Incumbent options include:

-Adbert Alzolay
-Tyler Chatwood
-Alec Mills
-Colin Rea
-Wieck
-Dillon Maples
-Duane Underwood Jr.
-James Norwood
-Brandon Morrow (reportedly re-signed on a minor-league deal)

Morrow and Chatwood are the most tenured options of the group, though the former has battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t pitched since July 2018. If he’s healthy (and pitches well in spring training) Morrow will likely claim a bullpen job.

Chatwood is a candidate for the final rotation spot, along with Alzolay, Mills and (potentially) Rea. Mills and Underwood are out of minor-league options. New reliever candidates include:

-Dan Winkler — signed to one-year, split deal
-CD Pelham — claimed off waivers from Rangers
-Trevor Megill — Rule 5 pick (Padres)
-Ryan Tepera — signed to one-year, split deal
-Casey Sadler — acquired from Dodgers
-Travis Lakins — acquired from Red Sox
-Jeremy Jeffress — reportedly signed to a one-year, big-league deal

Winkler, 29, spent the previous five seasons bouncing between the major and minor leagues with the Braves. Last season, he posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 MLB appearances and a 2.93 ERA in the minors (30 appearances). He made 69 big-league appearances in 2018, sporting a 3.43 ERA in 60 1/3 innings while tallying 69 strikeouts.

Winkler isn’t a flamethrower — his four-seam fastball averaged 92.1 mph last season — but it ranked in MLB’s 93rd percentile, meaning he generates swings and misses. Sadler ranked in the 90th percentile and posted a 2.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 33 games. The 29-year-old struck out 31 batters in 46 1/3 innings between the Dodgers and Rays, though he sported a whopping 12.3 K/9 in Triple-A (38 2/3 innings).

Pelham, 24, was recently outrighted off the 40-man roster and sent to Iowa. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2019 and struggled with command in Triple-A (18.3 walk rate) but throws hard. Megill, 26, throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and sported a 12.7 K/9 in Triple-A last season.

Worth noting: Pelham (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and Megill (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) are big dudes.

Tepera holds a career 3.64 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and made 73 and 68 appearances in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The 32-year-old missed a chunk of 2019 with a right elbow impingement, finishing with a 4.98 ERA in 23 games.

Lakins, 25, is a former sixth-round pick who posted a 3.86 ERA in 23 1/3 last season and holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons. His curveball ranked 66th in spin rate league-wide among pitchers who threw at least 50 last season.

Jeffress reportedly agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday worth close to $1 million. He’s coming off a rough 2019 with the Brewers in which he sported a 5.02 ERA, dealing with a shoulder injury out of the gate. The 32-year-old also hurt his hip in August and was released on Sept. 1.

Jeffress is a season removed from posting a 1.29 ERA and 15 saves in 73 appearances. He’s another example of the budget-driven moves the Cubs have made this winter, and while he struggled in 2019, his career 3.16 ERA makes him a prime bounce back candidate.

There’s a lot of positives in the group, and the Cubs will use their pitch lab to make any necessary adjustments. They also realize not every guy will be as successful as Ryan or Wick, and some options won’t pan out. Their goal is to unearth as many contributors as they can.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle,” Hoyer said. “Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy." 

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