He might be missing in action to fans, but Geovany Soto has had a significant impact on the White Sox rookie catchers.
Potentially out for the season since May with an elbow injury, Soto has bucked a normal trend for most injured players with his constant presence at White Sox home games. He’s still uncertain, but Soto holds out hope he could play again during the 2017 season. Even if he doesn’t return, Soto has offered the young White Sox catchers plenty of value in an area they lack — experience.
“Everything,” catcher Omar Narvaez said. “The game plan. Throwing to second base. How to anticipate who’s going to run and the count they run in. How to support the pitcher, what moment to go to the mound. All that stuff. What moment we can throw the fastball in, things like that.
“Sometimes there are things I might not know, or he reinforces what I know.
“I can learn from it.”
Headed into this season, Narvaez and Kevan Smith had combined to play 41 major league games. While their collective inexperience wasn’t as much of an issue out of spring camp, it became one when Soto first hit the disabled list with a sore elbow in mid-April. Suddenly, the White Sox were relying upon two catchers with little knowledge of hitters around the league.
Soto returned 11 days later, but his stay was short-lived. He appeared in eight games before his elbow acted up again. Soto decided to have surgery that would keep him out a minimum of three months.
But he’s stuck around, which has been huge for Narvaez and Smith.
Soto said he made that choice because he remembers how valuable it was for him to be able to rely upon veteran catcher Henry Blanco early in his own career.
“I care about my guys, my catchers, my friends,” Soto said. “Henry Blanco took me under his wing, and I loved how that felt. He made me feel like I belonged from early in terms of all the struggles I went through with the defensive part of the game, calling the game, relationship with your pitchers, how to deal with the whole staff. I thought that really helped me as a major leaguer, and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Whereas most injured players are around occasionally, Soto arrives at Guaranteed Rate Field early and stays late. He doesn’t travel with the team — injured players mostly only do unless they’re on the verge of returning. But Soto has made himself readily available while he rehabs at home.
“He’s there every home game,” Smith said. “He’s always there early. He’s always asking if we want to do extra things, kind of getting some insight. He’s been awesome. He’s almost been like a second catching coach.
“Just a guy you can turn to for advice more so on in-game situations like, ‘What’s the right thing to do here?’ ‘How about that pitch sequence — what were you thinking there?’ He’ll see us kind of peek over into the dugout a few times just to see what he’s thinking.”
Soto — who signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in January for $2 million — said his elbow is 100 percent after arthroscopic surgery but he’s still rehabbing. Even if he doesn’t come back in 2017, Soto intends to play next season, “100 percent.”
“I still have a lot of baseball in this body,” Soto said. “I feel like I’m 21.”
In the meantime, he will continue to impart the wisdom he’s gained over 13 seasons on anyone who asks. He enjoys the role, and though it hasn’t been fully considered, Soto said coaching is in the “realm” of future possibilities.
“We have great guys here,” Soto said. “The most important is they come up here and they want to learn and get with the program.
“We are here to help them, guide them and let them know what they are probably going to see out there that we’ve seen before.”
Narvaez said Soto’s presence has been invaluable. Smith said he and Narvaez love having a veteran player around to increase their knowledge — the kinds of things Soto once asked of Blanco when they played together with the Cubs.
“I ask him a lot of questions on preparation and his first year, what he learned from it and how he got through it,” Smith said. “He’s been a solid guy, especially for being hurt. It’s very easy for a guy that’s hurt to go into a little hole and kind of stick your head out once in a while away.
“These guys are filled with baseball knowledge. You can ask them about situations, what they thought, if we did it the right way, if we pitched it the right way. It’s funny because you’ll be sitting with them and you’re just enlightened.”