Soto Hoping Defense Will Win Out

For his place on the 40-man roster, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto received September call-up honors in both 2005 and 2006, but he didn't see much playing time in either stint. In order to stake claim to a more long-lasting spot on the big league team, Soto knows it's his defense that will lead the way.

The 24-year-old Soto will be one of six catchers reporting to spring camp February 14. He is coming off two consecutive years at Triple-A Iowa in the Pacific Coast League and the 2007 season figures to be Soto's seventh since being selected by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 draft.

Soto has experienced the Triple-A level. He has experienced the Double-A and Class-A levels. Now, he's ready to experience the next level, and in a manner that equates to more than the phrase "cup of coffee."

If that is to happen, Soto believes it will be because of his work behind the plate; not with the bat.

"Defensively, every team is looking for a good catcher," the 24-year-old says. "What's going to keep me in the game are my catching and my defense."

Hard to argue. Paul Bako and Henry Blanco are two such catchers that have never been known for possessing a strong bat, yet the two have combined for 18 years of big league service time in their respective careers.

Soto's defense isn't anything to be embarrassed about. At 6-1, 230 pounds, he does an overly nice job of blocking balls and generally has a decent throwing arm. Statistically, he committed eight errors and was charged with three passed balls a season ago en route to a .990 fielding percentage. He threw out 28 percent of runners.

Those numbers weren't enough to lead his league behind the plate and aren't likely enough to make a lasting impression on manager Lou Piniella, either. So to acquire some recent tutelage, Soto spent part of his offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter Baseball League with Lobos de Arecibo.

"Winter Ball was awesome, just coming back from Chicago and coming here," Soto said. "It was a nice experience to play with the guys down here. It's good competition because you have guys ranging from A-ball to all throughout the major leagues. It's different, but it's good playing in your hometown and with your own crowd. It was pretty fun."

It was the third straight year that Soto played in the league.

"The main reason for playing was keeping sound with my defense and just all of my catching abilities," he said. "The goal was to stay sharp with my defense, my throwing, my blocking, my footwork and everything.

"What's going to keep me in the game all year is my catching and my defense," Soto re-iterated.

In addition to Puerto Rico, Soto has also had some pretty nice tutelage in Chicago by way of Cubs catchers Michael Barrett and Blanco.

"Henry always talks to me about certain hitters and situations that I'd face," Soto said. "You have to talk strategy – who's hitting, who's on deck, who's pitching and who's available in the pen. Even the pitchers sat down and I talked to them and tried to learn as much both pitching- and catching-wise about what to do in certain situations."

Soto doesn't want to undervalue the taste, however limited it may be, of his big league experiences the past two years – both in September and in Spring Training. He says he felt more comfortable in Chicago last September because in 2005, it was "like a dream come true," and "a lot of emotion going on." Last time around was more "taking care of business," he said.

Heading into 2007, the Cubs appear relatively set at catcher once again, but should either Barrett or Blanco go down at some point, Soto would perceivably be the most likely choice to fill a void behind the plate. He earned a brief promotion to Chicago last June after Barrett began serving a 10-game suspension for punching White Sox showoff A.J. Pierzynski.

Needless to say, Soto wants more than just a temporary stay in Chicago. But after six seasons in the Cubs' farm system, he is still learning the ropes.

"I've been catching for the last five years now, and I'm still adjusting," he said. "All the different fields you play on and the night and day games wear you out. You have to keep going."

As for hitting, Soto doesn't want to undervalue his bat, either. He hit a career-best .272 a season ago. For his career, he has batted .262 in 478 games.

"I'm pretty happy with it, but I know I could be a lot better," Soto said of his work at the plate. "Either this year or next, I hope to explode as a hitter.

"But I do work a lot harder on my defense."


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