Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

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Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

Sunday, March, 6, 2011
Posted: 6:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano hasnt felt this good since 2007, when he reported to Arizona with a new 136 million contract.

The Cubs knew that they would be getting diminishing returns by the end of the deal, and part of it was written off as a Tribune Co. indulgence before selling the team.

Halfway through that eight-year commitment, Soriano says he is completely healthy, free to concentrate on his swing and his defense and not nagging injuries. Hed even consider playing beyond 2014.

I said to myself just for my family (that I) want to play (out) this contract and thats it, Soriano said. Well see if my body feels good and I can play one or two more years (after that).

Sorianos oldest son is eight years old and the first consideration for him and his wife is where to send their kids to school, either keep them in the Dominican Republic or bring them to the United States.

That speaks to someone who does not view himself in decline. Soriano does not expect to be hanging onto a job, nor does he want to transition into being a designated hitter.

Last season marked the first time as a Cub that Soriano went the entire year without going on the disabled list. Its a spring-training clich to say that hes in great shape, but hes always been diligent about his conditioning.

Hes cut, manager Mike Quade said. Hes ready to go from Day 1.
Getting defensive

Everyone loves to go hit in the cage, but Soriano wasnt nearly as attentive to his defense. It is one reason why Cubs fans booed him last season during pregame introductions at the home opener.

We had to push him to really get him to work in the outfield, Quade said. Hell, I ran him into a wall and hurt him.

Quade pointed toward the RA Sushi advertisement in left field at HoHoKam Park and recalled the time Soriano injured his hand during one drill and was sidelined for a few Cactus League games in 2008.

When youre a young outfield coach for Lou (Piniella), youre going, Oh, man, now Im looking for work. Hes going to miss a week and I might miss the rest of the year.

Quade raised his arms into the air and joked: The good news is I survived.

So has Soriano, who needed to sharpen his defensive instincts out there after spending so much time around the middle infield.

I never thought he was afraid of the wall, Quade said. Its just getting comfortable in understanding judgment of the warning track.

In 2009 Soriano committed 11 errors in 117 games. Last year he had seven errors in 147 games. During that time, his Ultimate Zone Rating has gone from -3.1 to 5.2. It looks like hes covering more ground this spring. He wants to be a nine-inning player.

The left-field thing it was weird, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. He was always an infielder and everyones like, Oh, hes a bad leftfielder. Ok, well, he never played the outfield, so hes really, really been working hard at it. And hes gotten better.

Thats sometimes the things people dont see every day hes out there working on it and trying to get better.

Love of the game

Soriano doesnt have an innate sense around the left-field wall. But he does have a natural feel for the clubhouse, where he was spotted dancing the other day. He is not just cashing checks.

A smile on his face every day, Dempster said. He brings a great energy.

Last September Soriano sat by himself in the clubhouse in St. Louis, glued to the television watching MLB Network highlights while eating his postgame meal. He looked like a little kid, and maintains that kind of enthusiasm.

The passion for the game (doesnt) make me old, Soriano said. I know that (Im 35), but I dont feel like Im 35.

When I dont have that in me, its over. I think thats the most important thing right now for me I still love the game.

During the offseason Soriano worked out five times a week at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic. Those 16- and 17-year-old prospects kept him young. He brought their faraway dreams right up close.

You can boo him all you want, point out the speed hes lost and complain about all the money thats left on his contract. Soriano doesnt care he keeps it simple between the lines. That's what he tells them back home in the Dominican Republic.

I used to be like those guys, Soriano said. Now what I give to them is confidence. (I say) to them: The big leagues is the same game, nothing changes."

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

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

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Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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