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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cubs Preview #2- 3/24/08

Roster Spot 9- C- Geovany Soto #18
Ht: 6'1'' Wt: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right

He ain't no Robert Machado..

Quick, name the last Cub catcher you can think of who was both defensively and offensively above-average. Michael Barrett could hit but was a defensive liability at best, and more often played catcher like the Cubs had put Joe from Johnny Got His Gun behind the plate(, and also failed to block Carlos Zambrano's fist from connecting with his mouth. Todd Hundley back in 2001 and 2002 was supposd to provide offense behind the plate, but managed to hit only .187 and .211, respectively, and was shipped off to the Dodgers after earning the place of "Worst Cub of My Lifetime" in the eyes of Bad Kermit of Hire Jim Essian! and no doubt holds that spot for many Cubs fans. The 1990s featured a parade of mediocre backstops, from what was left of Benito Santiago to Scott Servais to Joe Girardi. Really, besides one freak 30 homer season from Rick Wilkins in 1993, the last Cubs catcher to combine a solid average, 20+ homer potential, and plus defensive skills was Jody Davis from 1981-1988. This year the Cubs hope to change that with rookie catcher Geovany Soto.

Soto went from minor league mediocrity all the way up to starting for the Cubs in the playoffs. After 6 season in the minors where he never hit above .271 or slugged more than 9 homers, Soto dropped over 20 pounds in the '06-07 offseason and came into spring training with the Cubs and impressed the big league staff. At AAA Iowa last year Soto tore up the Pacific Coast League, with a .353 avg., 26 hrs, 109 rbis, a .424 OBP and a .652 slugging % in only 110 games. Geovany managed to give some evidence that his minor league numbers might not have been a mirage by ripping .389 in 18 games in the majors last September, with 3 hrs, 8 rbis, a .433 OBP and a .667 slugging %.

There are many people doubting whether or not Soto can duplicate last year's success at the major league level, and they point to Soto's .217 spring training average. I for one side with those who believe in Geovany (among the Geovany boosters is my girlfriend, who I believe just likes the name Geovany) and expect big things from him. I personally also believe he'll do a great deal to balance the strikeout prone Cubs offense, as even in his mediocre minor league years he posted frequent on-base percentages in the .350 range, and never struckout more than 94 times (if that still seems high, Derrek Lee of the .400 OBP struck out 117 times last year ).

I'm not expecting Geovany to replicate his 26 homers of 2007 in the majors, at least not right away (though I wouldn't be surprised if he did), but i think a .280-.300 average, with 15-20 homers and 70-90 RBIs isn't beyond reason, which would put him well ahead of all previous Cubs catchers.

On the defensive side, Geovany had a very solid career .992 fielding percentage in the minors and in his brief call up with the Cubs last year the Cubs pitchers managed a 3.60 ERA with Geovany behind the plate, and he posted a 1.000 percentage in 16 games behind the plate for the Cubs last year.
So here's to Geovany and the hope that he can continue what we saw from him in 2007. If so he wouldn't have far to go to capture the lightly contested title of Greatest Cub Backstop of the 21st Century.

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