Cubs

Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

363893.jpg

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.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.