Soto Only Focused on the Present

Sunday was a good day for young players from all over the world to revel in their current success and perhaps think just a little about potential big league stardom at baseball's annual All-Star Futures Game in San Francisco. Cubs catching prospect Geovany Soto was among the players on hand for the event, but his focus was only on the present.

For Soto, the present is a good place to be.

After batting .341 through 69 games for Triple-A Iowa, the native of San Juan, P.R., joined fellow prospects from all 30 major league clubs in the Bay Area for his first Futures Game appearance at AT&T Park on Sunday.

Soto was a member of the World Team, who beat its U.S. counterparts, 7-2.

With Iowa, Soto had recorded a hit in all but one of his last 13 games prior to the event. He has the second best batting average amongst current Iowa hitters – no shortage for a team with the second best average in the Pacific Coast League.

"Hitting is contagious," said the 24-year-old Soto. "Everybody here is pretty much hot. Buck Coats, Eric Patterson, and Ronny Cedeno are all hitting the ball well. No one gives you a margin of error."

The hits haven't always rolled in as frequently for Soto as they are now.

Entering the 2007 season, his third straight at Triple-A, Soto was similar to a lot of Iowa hitters: he was still ironing out timing issues with his swing after batting a combined .265 for his career in six minor league seasons.

"At this stage in your career, you'd like to think they'd have a timing mechanism by now," said Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua. "You shouldn't be at Triple-A still worried about getting your timing mechanism, but that's the case now a day. Once they establish that, for a lot of them, they become better hitters and it gives them a chance to be successful big league hitters."

As such, there appears to be no real, earth-shattering secret behind Soto's success at the plate this year.

OK, so maybe there is one other thing Soto is doing differently now.

"All I've done is be aggressive at the plate, not take too many pitches, and not be too patient," Soto said of his approach this year. "If you get a good pitch to hit, you hit it. I'm not always taking that first-pitch fastball anymore."

Soto closed out the unofficial first half of his season prior to both the Futures Game and the Triple-A All-Star Game by going 1-for-3 at the plate with an RBI sac fly in a game against New Orleans on Friday.

Already this season, Soto has a career-high 12 home runs and 55 RBIs – the latter of which is largely due to aforementioned hitters like Patterson and Cedeno getting on base in front of him.

The approach Soto has used to raise his batting average has also helped bring in more home runs, he says.

"I've always had a little power," confesses Soto, who had 25 career home runs entering the season. "It's just that now I'm squaring up on the ball more and getting better pitches to hit in those counts where you can get a good pitch to drive.

"I used to take a lot of pitches. Now I'm being aggressive early and putting a good swing on the ball. I'm trying to play good baseball and get the guy over. If it falls in for a hit, it does. I'm just trying to do the job," he said.

As he does most every year, Soto spent the past off-season in his native Puerto Rico playing Winter Ball. There he played alongside such hitters as Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman and Mets INF Ruben Gotay.

The experience of Winter Ball is always a good primer for the season ahead, not so much for the offense, but the defense, Soto says.

"It helps with calling games and you get more experience with older pitchers," Soto said. "Hitting is very inconsistent in Puerto Rico. It's really on and off, but calling games, you have a lot of veteran guys hitting and it gives you a good idea about how to call good games."

Defense has been one of Soto's finer attributes this season. He has thrown out 13 of 39 (33 percent) opposing runners while committing only two errors and being charged with four passed balls for a .994 fielding percentage that ranks just one spot shy of league leader Justin Knoedler.

In spite of the success he's having at the plate, it is behind the dish where Soto is most pleased with his performance in 2007.

"It's like everything else in that you have to keep working hard, but that's been one of my most solid things – being a defensive catcher," he said. "If a man's on third and it's in the dirt with a tight ball game, it's something I (handle) pretty good."

And with Michael Barrett recently shipped to San Diego in exchange for the 2-for-27-hitting Rob Bowen, and Henry Blanco still on the disabled list, Soto knows he could be called on at any time to step in behind the plate with the big league club.

Soto received his first in-season call-up last year, but was returned to Iowa after just 48 hours. His next trip up could be a more long-lasting experience.

"I'm not really paying any attention to it whatsoever," Soto said of the Cubs' current catching situation. "I want to be called up, (either) some time soon or in September, but I'm really not worried about that. I'm just focusing on the good season I'm having. I'm trying to put more numbers up and just control whatever I can control."

Soto shared the same outlook regarding the Futures Game.

"I'm just going to do whatever I can do. I'm not going to try to do too much or try to impress anybody. I'm just going to play and do what I do," he said.

For now, that's good enough.

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