Is Soto more valuable to the Cubs in a trade?

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Is Soto more valuable to the Cubs in a trade?

HardballTalk's Matthew Pouliot continues his preseason projections heading into spring training with the Top 10 catchers.

The Cubs' Geovany Soto made the list at No. 8, coming in at a projected .799 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 422 at-bats.

Buster Posey of the Giants heads up the list with an .878 OPS projection. Only he and Brian McCann of the Braves are projected for a better OPS than Soto in the National League.

Soto's OPS in 2011 was .721 in 421 at-bats, but that includes a low .310 OBP -- the lowest of his career -- and a .228 batting average contributed largely to that low total.

In 2010, Soto hit .280 with a .393 OBP and .497 SLG, good for an .890 OPS. By Pouliot's projections, that would put the Cubs backstop atop all catchers.

Pouliot's prediction brings about two questions, and neither are related to Soto's final numbers.

For one, who will make up those other 150 or so at-bats at the catcher position? Koyie Hill appeared in 46 games last year for the Cubs, putting up a horrible .545 OPS in 134 at-bats. But Hill is gone and the Cubs are left with three options right now -- Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo and Jason Jaramillo.

Jaramillo is a veteran with significant MLB experience while Clevenger and Castillo are young up-and-comers. Will the new Cubs management team of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum be comfortable with Clevenger or Castillo taking the backup catcher role in 2012? Or will Jaramillo be the choice based on experience?

The other question is Soto's status with the team. His numbers will be there so long as he's on the field. Injuries are impossible to predict, but he very well could wind up in a different uniform by the time the season ends.

The 29-year-old catcher remains one of the Cubs' best trade chips and several contending teams could enlist in his services before the year is out.

Let's just assume for a second that Pouliot's projections will be exactly how things play out. Only two of the catchers ahead of Soto on the list played for playoff teams in 2011. Posey's return should make the Giants contenders once again and the Indians and Braves would not be huge surprises if they earn a postseason berth in 2012.

The Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals, Yankees and Rays do not have a catcher on this list. These five 2011 playoff teams all expect to contend for 2012 on some level. If the second Wild Card is added for each league this year, that will just create more challengers who could be looking for an upgrade at catcher.

With the Cubs in the midst of rebuilding and not expecting to contend in 2012, Soto may be more valuable to the long-term prospects of the team in a trade, rather than suiting up in the blue and red catcher's gear for 135 games.

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

What initially looked like a garbage-time home run for Kris Bryant – and day-after spin from Theo Epstein – actually summed up why the Cubs have a homegrown superstar and a franchise ready for another close-up in October.

It also helps explain how Bryant – at the age of 24 – became the first player in history to hit three homers and two doubles in a Major League Baseball game. Bryant set a franchise record with 16 total bases during Monday night’s 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, becoming the youngest Cub to ever have a three-homer game (or 10 days younger than Ernie Banks in 1955).

After the New York Mets swept the Cubs out of last year’s National League Championship Series, Epstein sat in a dingy Wrigley Field storage room converted into a media workspace for the playoffs. During that end-of-season news conference, the president of baseball operations highlighted Bryant’s final at-bat, how New York’s right-handers kept attacking him with changeups.

Cubs officials felt like they were beaten at their own game, impressed how the Mets did such a great job with advance scouting, breaking down numbers and executing that night’s plan. If Bryant appeared to be vulnerable to that weakness – and a little worn down at the end of an All-Star/Rookie of the Year campaign – he still had the presence of mind to make an adjustment in Game 4.

With his team down seven runs in the eighth inning, Bryant drove a changeup from a two-time All-Star reliever (Tyler Clippard) 410 feet into the left-center field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Bryant can grow up as the son of an old Boston Red Sox prospect who learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams – and have his own batting cage at his family’s Las Vegas home – and still not feel burned out from the game or create the wrong Sin City headlines.

Bryant can get drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, shoot a Red Bull commercial with a goat before his first at-bat in The Show and have his own billboards in Wrigleyville – and still not alienate himself from teammates or come across as having the wrong priorities.

Bryant is athletic enough to play third base, right field and left field during that 5-for-5, six-RBI, three-homer game. He can also get analytical and self-diagnose – without feeling paralyzed at the plate.

Bryant didn’t remember the NLCS as an eye-opening experience or give the Mets too much credit: “They all throw 96 (mph), which is kind of just where baseball is nowadays, too – a ton of people are throwing gas.”

For Bryant, it’s a constant process of self-evaluation, from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut last April, through the 21 games it took before hitting his first big-league homer, beyond hitting the rookie wall last summer (.639 OPS in July).   

“It’s the peaks and valleys of baseball,” Bryant said. “From August and September last year, I had two really good months (.900-plus OPS). I didn’t really have the postseason I wanted to. But up until that point, I was swinging the bat really good. I was feeling really good about myself.

“I kind of just went back to what I did in college, a drill that kept me more flat to the ball. That’s what helped me. And then going into the offseason, I really wanted to expand on it. Just continue with it and see where it took me.”

After finishing second in the majors with 199 strikeouts last season, Bryant struck out 12 more times in 37 playoff plate appearances. He’s now on pace for around 160 strikeouts – with 21 homers and 57 RBI a week out from the Fourth of July.  

“What he had been doing before was not going to work (long-term),” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not one of those guys (who says): ‘Hey, you can’t hit like that in the big leagues.’ I always used to hate hearing that from coaches. (But) the fact was that he had such an abrupt uppercut or chicken wing – whatever you want to call it – easily exposed by good pitching. Easily. And it had to go away.

“(He) worked through it. He knew how he was getting beat up at the plate. He knew what he couldn’t get to that he was able to get to before. He’s only 20-something years old, (but) he’s quick (and thinking): ‘I’m seeing the ball good. I just can’t get to it. What do I have to do to get to those pitches?’ Now he is.”

The Mets won the pennant, but their foundation might already be crumbling, with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard reportedly dealing with bone spurs in their pitching elbows and Matt Harvey (4-9, 4.64 ERA) struggling to live up to his Dark Knight of Gotham persona after throwing 216 innings during last year’s return from Tommy John surgery.

The Epstein regime built a franchise around young power hitters like Bryant – believing that young power pitchers are inherently too fragile – and the Cubs could be 25 games over .500 when they get another shot at the Mets in an NLCS rematch that begins Thursday night at Citi Field.  

“Obviously, the front office has done a really good job of getting good players,” Bryant said. “You look at the young talent around the room, it’s pretty cool to see that.

“They’re just good people. They drafted good people, signed good people, and I think that just makes it easier to go out there and play our game and be yourself.”

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

Despite the recent renovations to Wrigley Field, one iconic feature of the century-old ballpark remains the same. The scoreboard.

Still manually operated as it has always been since its installation in 1937, the iconic scorebard is part of the rich tradition of Wrigley Field. With the construction of two large video boards in left and right fields, the center-field scoreboard stands tall to link changing Wrigley with its historic past. 

Kelly Crull takes a ride around Wrigleyville in the all-new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to bring you the history and evolution of the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard. 

Some of the craziest facts from Kris Bryant's monster night in Cincy

Some of the craziest facts from Kris Bryant's monster night in Cincy

What a night for Kris Bryant.

The Cubs' second-year third baseman had one of the biggest offensive nights in club history Monday, going 5-for-5 with a trio of home runs, a pair of doubles, six RBIs and four runs scored. That's a whopping 16 total bases.

Some of the crazier facts from CSN stats guru Chris Kamka.

The Cubs had a fun fact of their own (with visual aide):

And this one from the Reds might be the most impressive of all:

We said it before, but it's worth repeating: What a night for Kris Bryant.