Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

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Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
Posted 6:37 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Geovany Soto looked around the room and realized how much things had changed. Theres no Moises Alou, no Henry Blanco, no Sammy Sosa or his boom box.

At 28, Soto may feel a little older, but insists that hes in great physical shape. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September and is working out at Fitch Park without any restrictions.

The Cubs described it as a routine procedure, and Soto said it only shaved off a little bit of the bone, without touching any ligaments or muscles. That is part of the normal wear and tear on a homegrown catcher whos entering his 11th season in the organization.

With that comes status, and Soto expects to be a more vocal leader this season, a more visible presence in the clubhouse.

We need to pick it up, he said. Last year we had all kinds of problems. I dont have any problem with taking charge and telling anybody theyre slacking.

Soto does not exclude himself from that assessment. Hes been told how great he is after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008. Months later, he went through the embarrassment of a failed drug test at the World Baseball Classic. Last offseason he changed his diet and remade his body.

It paid off last year: Sotos .890 OPS was higher than any other major-league catcher with at least 300 at-bats. He hit .280 with 17 homers and 53 RBI in 105 games. Hes also drawn praise for how he handles a pitching staff, as someone who doesnt care if he goes 0-for-4 that day.

Soto was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York as a young boy, and then moved back to San Juan before being chosen in the 11th round of the 2001 draft. He moves easily through the different groups in the clubhouse.

The fact that hes bilingual its like having a manager on the field, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. Its another quality as a leader, (but) hes just a guy that people gravitate to.

Fleita has stressed the importance of learning English to younger catchers like Welington Castillo, who regularly consults with Soto. They ask Soto about little things, like whether or not they can wear a fleece to the workout. In meetings, bullpen sessions and two different languages, Soto goes between the coaches and pitchers, relaying their thoughts on mechanics.

Its a little bit difficult for us, the Latin players, Castillo said. (But) you got to adapt to this country. This is our dream and we got to play for it and fight for it.

If Mike Quade has one regret its getting his degree in business not Spanish from the University of New Orleans. He also managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and watched the catcher develop up close.

Whether its Venezuela or Dominican, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Quade said, theres a mutual respect going around all over the place. (Sotos) huge in that and thats an evolving thing with him. It doesnt become a rah-rah thing or a guy thats teaching all the time. I always think that gets a little bit overplayed. You lead by example and you lead by experience.

It did not go unnoticed that the Cubs recently rewarded another homegrown player. They bought out Carlos Marmols first year of free agency with a three-year, 20 million deal. Soto got a huge raise to 3 million this year and is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons. He could be in line for an extension.

That sort of stuff (can) get your attention, Soto said. As a ballplayer, you know thats there. But you also need to come to the field every day and just worry about whatever you can control. You can control getting here early. You can control the hustle. You can control good attitude. Whatever plays out, plays out.

Maybe it ends like this: The next wave of Cubs standing around their lockers explaining what Soto meant to them.

It feels kind of good that Ive stuck around this (long), Soto said. Hopefully (its) for 20 more years.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

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USA TODAY

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Cubs had so much confidence in Kyle Schwarber last year that they made him their World Series designated hitter – less than seven months after major surgery on his left knee and with only two Arizona Fall League games as the warm-up – and expected him to deliver against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dynamic Cleveland Indians bullpen.

Now? Manager Joe Maddon isn’t quite ready to make that leap of faith with Schwarber, even as the October legend closes in on 30 home runs this season and puts up a .900-plus OPS since his reboot at Triple-A Iowa this summer.

“The thing you’ve got to be willing right now with Schwarbs is understanding that he’s going to do that,” Maddon said Wednesday, pointing toward the right-center field seats where Schwarber launched Chris Archer’s 96-mph fastball the night before at Tropicana Field. “And then he might strike out with a runner on third base. You have to accept both sides.

“You’re playing for that (home run) based on his ability against that pitcher, also knowing that you’re going to see the punch-out in there, too. It’s just part of who he is right now.”

That would appear to be a part-time player, as Maddon went with Jon Jay’s contact skills in the designated-hitter spot against Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell and continues to think about what will give the Cubs the best chance to win the final stages of the National League Central race.

Looking back on his time with Rays, Maddon explained some of the creative tension within a small-market operation constantly looking for ways to find an edge. Maddon called it buckets of information, how certain data points and sample sizes should be used in free agency and trades, while others informed the daily lineup/bullpen decisions and why you had to look inside the numbers.

How do you assess Schwarber in 2017? During the time of the year when he narrows his focus and becomes extremely calculating, Maddon started talking about Schwarber in terms of player development and the future, which didn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence.

“Big bucket, everybody’s going to love this guy,” Maddon said. “And then I think the smaller buckets are going to get even more attractive. I do believe the more he plays in the years to come, you’re going to see the strikeouts come back down, a better adjustment when the count gets deeper.

“He’s already trying to choke up. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that from up top – he’s really trying to do different things in counts right now – and I’m starting to see some progress with that, too.

“But, God, the guy missed all of last season, and I still think that we all forget that sometimes. I thought he was a little bit better – when I first met him – at the ball with two strikes. I think that went away for a bit. Now I think he’s really trying to nurture that coming back.

“So I would say next year you’re going to see the same kind of power, but probably more contact when it’s needed. That’s the bucket he’s going to fall into.”

Coming off that dramatic World Series comeback, Schwarber fell into an offensive spiral that got him demoted to the minors three months ago. He’s still managed to blast 28 homers while striking out 31 percent of the time, struggling against left-handed pitching (.663 OPS) and batting .208 overall.

Schwarber also has the type of hard-charging personality that feeds off those doubts, loves the big-game pressure and creates energy for the rest of the team. There will be another chapter to his 2017.

“It is what it is,” Schwarber said. “That first whole part of the season was a wash for me. I was able to go down and just kind of get my head recollected and get some parts of my swing down.

“I can’t worry about the number up on the scoreboard. It’s just stupid to do that. So that’s all I’m worried about every time I go up to the plate – I want to put in a good team at-bat.”

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

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Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.