Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Posted: 9:12 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
HOUSTON The look Carlos Zambrano gave Geovany Soto said it all: What are you doing here?
To the 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field and everyone watching at home it appeared as if the Cubs were discussing strategy on the mound. This was 2008 late in Sotos Rookie of the Year campaign and already he had a sense of the moment and a gift for putting people at ease.
The catcher didnt plan it. He just started moving his mouth without making any actual sounds.
I had nothing to say to him, Soto recalled. I just wanted to go out there and calm him down. I just didnt know how to. So I (figured): Let me see if he can laugh at this.
Soto hasnt used the mime trick again, but he will have to be creative as the Cubs try to weather the storm and keep their pitching staff together after the injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.
Sotos job is to keep Zambrano focused and get Matt Garza up to speed on the National Leagues hitters.
Its on Soto to prepare James Russell for his first big-league start and guide three relievers Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Stevens and Marcos Mateo who combined have a little more than a year of major-league service time.
Theres Soto blocking another darting slider from Carlos Marmol with the game on the line.
(Geos) awesome, Wells said. Hes constantly (chatting). You always feel like hes in the game and you always feel like hes out there with your best interests in mind.
Soto has earned the pitchers respect by doing his homework, gathering as much information as he can each day. You cant buy those relationships or his status in the clubhouse.
As much as anyone, the 28-year-old Soto is a billboard for the organizations player-development model, an infielder signed out of Puerto Rico and converted into an All-Star catcher.
Welington Castillo, the systems 23-year-old catching prospect, has looked promising. But with another big season, Soto could be in line to talk about an extension that would buy out his two remaining years of arbitration.
Soto has already gone through what Cashner, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are facing as second-year players. There will be increased expectations and demands on their time. The novelty will begin to wear off.
Its a learning process, Soto said. (You) take the positive stuff out learn the lesson so you dont make the same mistakes.
Soto answered any lingering questions about his maturity last season by generating 17 homers, 53 RBI and an .890 OPS that led all catchers in the majors with at least 300 at-bats.
But his impact goes beyond the box score, as a patient hitter who sees a lot of pitches and will no doubt produce more than the .182 average he woke up with on Tuesday morning.
A 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pound man who has dealt with some weight issues in the past even moves well on the bases.
Ive said this for years and people laugh at me but one of the best baserunners on this club is my catcher, manager Mike Quade said. He gets great secondary leads. He has good instincts. (You) watch a deep fly ball to right-center that may or may not be caught and instinctively hes at the bag and ready to roll.
Quade once managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and thinks the catcher is throwing as well as he has in years.
Thats a byproduct of the shoulder surgery he underwent last September. This is usually when he would start to feel roughed up after the long spring training and the grind of getting used to playing again every day.
In one answer, Soto described the feeling in his right arm as great, unbelievable and awesome.
That attitude is why teammates are drawn to Soto. They listen, even when he doesnt say anything.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.