Cubs catchers will keep pushing Geovany Soto


Cubs catchers will keep pushing Geovany Soto

PHILADELPHIA Dale Sveum predicted that Welington Castillo will play in All-Star games and make a lot of money in this game.

That was supposed to soften the news that Castillo didnt make the team out of spring training. The Cubs felt like the catcher needed to play every day at Triple-A Iowa to accelerate his development.

But would you rather spend your summer in Des Moines or Chicago?

The Cubs can take a long-range view behind the plate. But they needed a short-term fix on Saturday, when they placed Steve Clevenger on the disabled list with a right oblique strain.

So Castillo who could be the catcher of the future arrived at Citizens Bank Park and found himself in the lineup when Geovany Soto was scratched with upper back tightness.

Castillo, who just turned 25, was hitting .320 with a .955 OPS at Iowa and has a rocket arm that can shut down the running game. The 26-year-old Clevenger has impressed the team with his left-handed bat (11-for-22) and ability to handle the pitching staff.

Soto is making 4.3 million this season and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2013. The 29-year-old is playing for a front office thats trying to go young and obtain years of club control.

Do you feel like youre being pushed?

Yeah, absolutely, in a positive way, Soto said. You always (think) the better they get, the better you get. (Ive seen) them since they were in A-ball. Its rewarding to see that theyre doing great.

Its kind of humbling whenever you see those guys come up and be right next to you.

Soto said the back issue is nothing major and indicated that hed be available off the bench. Hes batting .135 with one RBI, though his job is safe for now.

Its too early to worry about production and pushing anybody or anything like that, Sveum said. Geos (still) catching well, so hes doing a lot of other things behind the scenes besides swinging the bat.

His at-bats have been fine. Theres not a lot of results, obviously. (But) sometimes we forget about things like walking and getting to the pitcher and doing things out of the eight spot.

Soto is bilingual and popular within the clubhouse, though he sometimes has trouble staying healthy. He hit .228 with 17 homers and 54 RBI in 125 games last season. He believes hell turn it around.

Its not going to help me to mope around or be down about myself, Soto said. Right now, all we want is to play good baseball and win ballgames, try to build some character for this team.

I know what I can do and right now its early, 50 at-bats into the season. You cant be panicking at this point. Its just putting good at-bats together and (well) see what happens.

Sveum likes to say the media guide doesnt lie, but its hard to project Soto from one year to the next.

The manager acknowledged it has been difficult for Soto to live up to the big expectations created by that Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008 (.285 average with 23 homers and 86 RBI).

Its been inconsistent, but still the home runs are there, the on-base percentage has still been there, Sveum said. Sometimes when a guy has a rookie season like he did, we kind of (scale it) too much.

Understand that the league knows how to pitch him better than they did then and all those kind of things. As long as were getting quality at-bats and catching well and handling the pitching staff, thats still what you want out of your catcher.

The Cubs could have two low-cost options fitting that description already in-house.

Clevenger felt something during batting practice on Friday and was scheduled to fly back to Chicago for treatment. The sense is that it could take weeks not just a 15-day DL stint to recover from an oblique injury, though theres no timetable yet.

I definitely believe I belong up here, Clevenger said. Im kind of disappointed, but at the same time, Ill be back and Ill be ready to go.

Why Cubs hitters are catching up to pitchers earlier than expected

Why Cubs hitters are catching up to pitchers earlier than expected

Kyle Schwarber sent a long fly ball clattering around the center field bleachers, and there was only one way for Cubs manager David Ross to properly celebrate in the time of COVID-19: a sweeping air high-five.

Ross jogged out to Schwarber during Friday evening’s intrasquad scrimmage, and they mimed the celebration.

During intrasquad games, Ross’s alliances flip back and forth so quickly it’s dizzying. Early in Summer Camp, he remembers one of the pitchers saying, “It’s really weird having your manager rooting against you.”

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Said Ross: “I tried to tell him, I’m on everybody’s side.”

Of course Ross wants his pitchers to succeed. But if the Cubs make a deep playoff run this season, it likely won’t be because of dominant pitching.

“I think our offense is going to be out strong suit,” Ross said three days into Summer Camp.

That’s no knock on the pitchers themselves. Ross has consistently praised the pitching staff’s work during the pandemic. But their challenges keep mounting.  

The starting rotation was already thin before Jose Quintana sliced the thumb on his pitching hand while washing dishes. A week into Summer Camp, he still can’t throw, and Jon Lester’s program had him pitching to live batters later than the rest of the healthy starters.

Not to mention, even the most diligent training during the shutdown couldn’t make up for the length of training camp. Pitchers have just three short weeks to ramp up to game shape. Being ready to throw five innings will be a feat on that timeline.

Those factors make the Cubs hitters’ approach to the past four months all the more important.

“People are going to say the pitchers are ahead,” Schwarber said, “but you see all of our hitters out there putting in really good quality at-bats as well.”

In a normal Spring Training, the pitchers starting ahead of the hitters would be expected. But over the past week, the Cubs’ bats have called that assumption into question.

Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Josh Phegley have hit two home runs apiece in intrasquad scrimmages.

Ross attributes some of his hitters’ early strides to the amount of live batting practice they took even after Spring Training closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schwarber was one of those who remained in Arizona. There, Ross said, Schwarber faced Cubs pitchers Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Colin Rea.

“Those guys who were able to be in that environment are obviously going to be a little bit further along,” Ross said, “and you can see it in Kyle’s swing and how good he looks.”

Even players who didn’t have that advantage have been making solid contact. Jason Heyward, who said he only had one day of live batting practice during the break, had the first intrasquad hit of Summer Camp.

The way hitting coach Anthony Iapoce sees it, the limits the shutdown placed on batting practice may have been a blessing in disguise.

“Guys are hitting in the garage off the tee, they’re hitting in open fields by themselves while somebody’s flipping them balls,” Iapoce said. “So, nobody was in these grand facilities with all these types of things, so you really had to work on yourself as you’re hitting. You have to (practice) what I call tee meditation. … That does a lot for a player when he can be alone with his thoughts and work.”

Now, they’re back in big-league facilities with Opening Day just two weeks away.

The pitchers’ ability to navigate this unprecedented season will set the Cubs’ floor. But during the upcoming 60-game sprint, the Cubs’ success depends on their hitters giving Ross more reasons to dole out air high-fives.



Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

They say Luis Robert can do it all.

Who knows how often he'll be called upon to hit a home run while falling down, but it turns out he can do that, too.

Robert lifted a Carlos Rodón pitch out of Guaranteed Rate Field during Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side. While it was happening, or perhaps immediately afterward, he fell over and landed on the other side of home plate.

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Worrywarts have no need to panic, he got right up, picked up his batting helmet and trotted around the bases. The next inning, he returned to his spot in center field.

So instead of a terrifying moment, the White Sox rookie delivered a kooky — and frankly, kind of amazing — highlight for the ages.

And so his legend grows.

Robert has already been the player to command the most fan interest during "Summer Camp" workouts. He heads into his first big league season as the most hyped White Sox prospect in recent memory, topping the excitement levels generated by the debuts of Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech and Yoán Moncada.

All that buzz comes after he thrilled minor league crowds last season with a combination of tape-measure home runs, blazing speed and highlight-reel catches in center field. That jam-packed toolbox has evaluators labeling him as the best of the White Sox collection of talented youngsters, and he's already being talked about as the game's next superstar.

"I see or hear all of that stuff," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo earlier this week. "I try to not pay attention to that. I know what I can do, and sometimes if you hear all that stuff, you’re going to have more pressure on you. And that might not be good for you because there is more. It’s good if people say that, but I just try to not pay too much attention to it.

"My expectations and goals are always the same. Give 100 percent, always, on the field, help the team as much as I can and hopefully go to the postseason. And if I’m lucky enough, maybe win the Rookie of the Year. Those are my goals, and if I stay healthy I feel confident I can do that."

RELATED: White Sox rookie Luis Robert confident in 'pretty hot' start to his '20 season

Robert has some challenges in this most unusual of baseball seasons. While getting his first taste of major league pitching, he was expected to have a full six months to make any necessary adjustments. Instead, he'll have just 60 games. Jiménez showed how useful having an entire season can be, starting slowly during his rookie campaign in 2019 only to figure things out in time for a white-hot month of September. If Robert doesn't catch fire immediately, he might not have the time to adjust before the season's almost over.

But that's not worrying Robert too much.

"If, for whatever reason, I don’t start the season as hot as I know I can, I will do my best to make the adjustments as fast as I can," he said. "But of course that’s not my mindset right now.

"I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent. I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble."

After seeing what he did Saturday, maybe he's right.