It took Alfonso Soriano 119 at-bats to hit his first home run last season.
You may even remember the dramatic solo blast.
Soriano tagged St. Louis flame-thrower Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game 6-6. More specifically, his smash was just one of two home runs Soriano hit to the opposite field in 2012 (video here).
Unfortunately, the Cubs would go on to lose this particular game on a walkoff hit by Yadier Molina (Grr!). But Soriano, as we came to see, was ready to embark on a home run tear.
Despite the fact Bryan LaHair already had 10 HRs, including one during this game, Soriano not only caught LaHair, but went on to stroke a team-leading 32 HRs by season’s end. It marked his second-highest home run total (33) since joining Chicago in 2007.
According to hittrackeronline.com, Soriano finished second in the National League in ‘No Doubt’ home runs (11), defined by the site as “the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.” Giancarlo Stanton led the NL with 12 no-doubters and Josh Hamilton took top honors in the American League with 15 deep blasts.
Soriano went yard 15 times at Wrigley Field. But his longest home run at the Friendly Confines, a 429 ft shot off San Diego’s Eric Stults, was only his fourth longest of the season.
SORIANO’S LONGEST HRs 2012
- 452 ft off Zack Stewart, US Cellular Field (video here)
443 ft off P.J. Walters, Target Field
435 ft off J.A. Happ, Minute Maid Park
Much of the credit for Soriano’s eventual power surge is credited to manager Dale Sveum gently nudging Soriano to switch to a lighter bat. This appeared to allow Soriano to regain some bat speed that’s naturally lost in a 36-year-old body with tattered legs.
Meanwhile, with the Cubs relying heavily on Soriano to carry the offense this season, the hope is he can come out of the gate much quicker than he did in 2012.
Coupled with a healthy body (Soriano also battled a nagging knee injury for six weeks last year) and Anthony Rizzo protecting him in the order, there’s reason to believe Soriano could take a crack at hitting 40 HRs, which he’s done on one other occasion, hitting 46 with Washington in 2006.
Not only would this be a huge lift for a Cubs offense, which is likely to struggle scoring runs, but the trade possibilities for a healthy, homer-happy Soriano could net Chicago a pretty return at the trade deadline.
However, the truth of the matter is Soriano could also get off to another slow start, suffer an injury or simply show signs that his tired legs are finally out of gas. That’s part of the risk the Cubs have taken by holding onto Soriano this winter and throughout the beginning of the season.
But we also know Soriano brings more to the table than just home runs. His leadership and work ethic are praised by the organization and teammates alike.
That doesn’t erase the albatross of a contract hanging around his neck and squeezing the Cubs’ budget, but another solid year would be a fresh reminder not all of Soriano’s remaining 2 year, $18 million contract is dead money that’s gone to waste—even if it takes him another 120 at-bats to find his groove.