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Whatever Geovany Soto wants to prove is long overdue

By bullpenbrian - March 5, 2013 - 10:45 am Leave a comment.

Geovany Soto

Geovany Soto says he has something to prove this year. I feel he’s had something to prove ever since flopping after his terrific rookie season in 2008.

That was already five years ago, and the only thing Soto’s proven since is that he’s an incomplete, inconsistent player. Occasionally we might see a glimpse of ‘rookie Geo’, but mostly Soto’s progressively struggled through his prime years. Good year, bad year…meh.

Who knows what Soto’s really trying to prove this season. That he can be a starter again, that more fringe seasons are left in the tank, or that he can live up to the expectations that followed him since winning the Rookie of the Year Award?

“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain and I want to prove to myself and prove to the Texas Rangers that I am an All-Star caliber catcher and helps us reach the World Series.”
-Soto on ESPNDallas.com

Sometimes I feel the game came too easily for Soto upon his arrival with the Cubs in late 2007, a season in which he quickly earned the trust of Sweet Lou, so much so that he started Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Arizona. Then came his fabulous rookie campaign: 

-First rookie backstop ever selected to start the All-Star Game.
-Hit two 3-R HRs against Milwaukee in one game.
-Inside-the-park HR at Houston.
-A 7 RBI game against Pittsburgh.
-Caught Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter vs. Houston (in Milwaukee of course).
-Won the Pedrin Zorrilla Award (given to the most outstanding Puerto Rican player in the Major Leagues).
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Won the Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide.
-Finished 13th in the MVP voting.

The big leagues must have felt like easy money for Soto. He not only made the Show but he also made a name for himself, and worse, there was zero competition standing in his way for the starting job the next season.

Maybe it was the lack of competition that led Soto to show up at spring training overweight and out of shape in 2009? Had human nature won the best of him? Was Soto content letting the 2008 season do his talking for him, perhaps thinking there was nothing else to prove?

I didn’t think so, at least not right away. Sure, I’d concede Soto was showing some immaturity, but there’s no reason he wouldn’t bounce back, right? Well, wrong.

Soto, it seemed, just couldn’t get out of his own way. Soon thereafter he made the decision to skip working out with the Cubs in favor of joining team Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic–a decision that wouldn’t have made such a stink if he had actually been playing. Instead, Soto was used sparingly, sitting behind Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez.

By the end of spring training Soto was suffering from a sore right shoulder, an injury that would noticeably limit his throwing ability in the early part of the season. And by the end of April Soto was hitting .109/.268/.130. Perhaps a coincidence, but Soto’s perceived lack of baseball activity in the spring combined with his wretched start to the season appeared to go hand-in-hand.

But the real kicker came in June when MLB announced Soto had tested positive for marijuana during the WBC. Not normally a story worthy of overreaction–a ballplayer smoking it up in his mid 20s–but now something was becoming clear despite Soto’s foggy judgment–he was nowhere close to being fully committed to baseball.

Of course the 2009 season was a total drag for Soto–a flop-job in the wake of all the awards from the year prior. Granted, he briefly restored faith the following offseason by shedding a ton of weight and showing up to camp in tip-top shape, but it didn’t last.

Soto stayed inconsistent throughout his Cubs career fluctuating between good and bad seasons. He never came close to the player many Cubs fans, including myself, thought he would be following his rookie season.

“I can do it [improve offensively], but I think in the past I haven’t worked on my swing in the off-season the way I should have,”  said Soto to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald.

What Soto thinks he should’ve been doing is unknown. It may mean he should’ve been working on different hitting exercises, or maybe it’s code for he simply wasn’t working at all during the offseason.

It wouldn’t be fair to accuse him of the later without knowing for certain, but it’s hard not to wonder if Soto cheated himself and the Cubs of reaching his once sky-high potential?

I doubt Soto will prove anything this season given his past performance. And unfortunately, whatever Soto is looking to prove, whether it be to fans, to baseball, or to himself…it all should have happened years ago.

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Dempster’s First Big-Game Start Since Oct., 2008

By bullpenbrian - October 3, 2012 - 3:30 am Leave a comment.

The last time Ryan Dempster made a big-game start was October 1, 2008 against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field.

As many of you remember, Dempster didn’t fare too well. He appeared riddled with early-game jitters and his overall performance actually felt worse than his pitching line: 4.2 innings, 4-ER, 4-H, 2-K…7 walks.

James Loney’s fifth-inning grand slam off Dempster erased an early 2-0 Cubs lead and sent Chicago spiraling towards a 7-2 loss–and eventual series sweep at the hands of Los Angeles.

Now four years later, Dempster has his chance at redeeming his big-game poise when starting at Oakland later this afternoon (2:35pm CST). He has not faced the A’s this season.

Meanwhile, having dropped two-straight against the Athletics, Texas is on the brink of wasting what was once a 13-game lead over Oakland. The two clubs enter Game 162 tied atop the AL West division.

Officially, it’s not a playoff game, but it might as well be given the circumstances. And now, more than ever, the Rangers need Dempster to deliver a gem or risk facing a one-game playoff in the wild card round to advance in October.

Dempster’s been as good as advertised since joining the Rangers at the trade deadline (7-3, 4.64), but he’ll have his hands full against a red-hot A’s club that’s won 5-straight and sends AJ Griffin to the mound who’s (7-1, 2.71) over his last 14-starts.

For Cubs fans there’s plenty to root for, and against, depending on how bitter you are from Dempster’s fallout with Chicago after he surprisingly turned down what would have been a lucrative trade with Atlanta this past July.

However, this is exactly what Dempster was holding out for…a chance to play meaningful baseball in October…and a chance to right his playoff misfortunes with the Cubs in 2007-08. Batter up…

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Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm Update

By bullpenbrian - September 27, 2012 - 3:15 am Leave a comment.

Ryan Dempster allowed 16-earned runs in his first 17.1 innings with the Rangers. Since then, however, he’s won six of his last seven starts improving to (7-2) with a 4.48 ERA with Texas.

In 10 starts with the Rangers Dempster’s allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s also pitched into the sixth-inning six times, reaching seven-innings once, and once more in an eight-inning effort. Only twice has he failed to reach the six-innings mark (4.3 & 3.1).

Including 16 starts with the Cubs this season, Dempster is (12-7) overall with a 3.07 ERA. He’s scheduled for two more regular season starts–at home against the Angels on Friday and at Oakland next Wednesday in the season finale.

Bottom Line: Dempster hasn’t dominated AL lineups the way he had in the NL, which was expected, but all things considered he’s been as good as advertised since Texas acquired him at the trade deadline.

PAUL MAHOLM: The former Cubs lefty evened his record with the Braves to (4-4) after tossing 6.2 shutout innings in a 3-0 win vs. Miami last night.

In 10 starts with Atlanta Maholm has allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s pitched six or more innings seven times, three times managed at least seven-innings and recorded one complete-game shutout.

Including his 20-starts with the Cubs this season, Maholm is (13-10) overall with a 3.71 ERA. His win-total is a career-high surpassing his 10-win season with Pittsburgh in 2007. He can be expected to make one final start this regular season coming at Pittsburgh on Monday.

Bottom Line: Maholm has pitched better than his record in Atlanta while adding solid rotation depth for the Braves’ postseason run. It’s turned out to be a career-year for the southpaw.

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Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto Update

By bullpenbrian - September 27, 2012 - 3:05 am Leave a comment.

Reed Johnson has seen plenty of playing time since joining the Braves along with Paul Maholm on July 30th.

He’s appeared in 36-games, mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement, but has started 19-games while batting .278/.309/.333 with seven runs scored, five doubles and four RBI in 90 at-bats.

Including his 76-games spent with Chicago this year, Johnson is hitting .293,    3 HR, 20 RBI and a .745 OPS overall. His 17 pinch-hits leads the majors.

GEOVANY SOTO: A change of scenery hasn’t done much to help Soto offensively since joining the Rangers. He’s had plenty of opportunity, too. Regular backstop, Mike Napoli, was shelved for 33-games with a strained quad since early August.

In Soto’s 41-games with Texas, 36-starts, he’s batting a paltry .211 with six doubles, 5 HR, 24 RBI and a .641 OPS.

Although Soto’s experienced somewhat of a surge at the plate recently, 2 HR & 7 RBI over his last six starts, he’s batting .170 over his last 17-games.

To make matters worse, Soto’s already below-average 17.1-percent of runners caught stealing with the Cubs is down to 13.3-percent with Texas, having gunned-down just 4 of 30 base stealers.

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Ryan Dempster Update

By bullpenbrian - August 28, 2012 - 1:30 am 2 comments.

After a rough debut for the Texas Rangers, Ryan Dempster has settled in fairly well with the AL West division leaders.

Dempster is (3-1, 2.99 ERA) since the trade having won three of his last four starts. In five outings he’s lasted six or more innings on every occasion except one, and three have been quality efforts.

It took Dempster 10 starts to earn his first win with Chicago this season, and it wasn’t until June 15 that he won his third game, largely due to a lack of run support.

That, of course, isn’t an issue in Texas. The Rangers lead the major leagues in runs scored (665). The Cubs, meanwhile, rank second to last (470).

THE LONG BALL

What is of concern, however, are the six home runs Dempster’s allowed. Only once has he avoided allowing a long ball with Texas after serving up all of nine home runs with the Cubs through 14 starts.

This pattern might be explained with his unfamiliarity with the American League, or it could be a reaffirming notion Dempster is better suited as a National League starter–not that there’s any going back at this point.

Also of interest is that of Dempster’s two bad outings (Angels, Yankees) he allowed eight earned-runs on both occasions against two teams Texas could very well face this postseason.

WILL DEMPSTER PITCH THIS OCTOBER?

It’s unlikely Ron Washington would pencil Dempster in as one of his top three postseason starters, which would appear to be Matt Harrison (15-7), Yu Darvish (12-9) & Derek Holland (8-6).

That leaves Dempster to compete with Colby Lewis, Scott Feldman & Roy Oswalt as the swing man in a seven game series. And even by the current numbers Dempster wouldn’t top that list either.

But I wouldn’t completely rule Dempster out of Washington’s postseason plans. I speculate there may be a scenario where Dempster is used in a late-inning relief role.

Dempster did manage 87 career saves for the Cubs, and if he does have aspirations of pitching this October, the bullpen may be his best, if not only, option to do so.

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Reaction To Cubs Trades: Maholm, Johnson & Soto

By bullpenbrian - July 31, 2012 - 3:10 am Leave a comment.

I watched the Cubs 14-4 shellacking of Pittsburgh (you’re welcome Reds fans) from the bleachers Monday night. Definitely one of the most enjoyable games I’ve been to all year.

But all the excitement that came from a nine-run fifth-inning and home runs from Barney, Castro and Rizzo, quickly turned the buzz in the bleachers to trade anticipation after Reed exited the game in the fifth inning and Soto soon after.

I rushed home after the final out, quickly showered and then began digesting the Cubs latest player movement.

Quite honestly, my initial reaction to the trades was “Thank gawd. Something finally went down.” I’ll admit, I was growing more nervous with each passing hour the Cubs didn’t make a move as we close in on today’s 3pm EST non-waiver trade deadline.

PAUL MAHOLM & REED JOHNSON TRADED TO BRAVES

It turns out my gut feeling was right about Paul Maholm ending up with the Braves.

July 29 Post: “My gut feeling is Maholm ends up in Atlanta. The fact the Cubs and Braves already came to terms for Dempster, despite the outcome, tells us the Cubs like what the Braves have to offer as far as talented pitching prospects and Atlanta is clearly ready to deal.”

It’s a good fit for Paul and for Reed. It also appears what the Braves can’t make up in talent towards catching Washington in the NL East they’ll instead rely on high-character, team-first personnel the likes of both Maholm and Johnson.

There’s never anything wrong with adding a couple of high-character guys to a ball club. The Cardinals dynamic team-character largely outweighed its talent en route to winning the World Series last year.

The return pieces in the trade with Atlanta look favorable as well. You can read more about it here.

GEOVANY SOTO TRADED TO RANGERS 

In the ‘Lucky Dog’ trade of the day, Geovany Soto is changing his Cubbie blue for silver spurs. Good for him, good for the Cubs.

Soto couldn’t be in a better situation. Texas needed a quality back-up catcher and Soto is plenty good to fit the bill for a couple of months.

Despite not hitting worth a darn this season (.199/.284/.347), we know the potential is there for Soto to contribute offensively with Texas, not that the Rangers are in any need of offensive help.

But Soto’s greater value to the Rangers is his ability to call a good game and provide much needed relief down the stretch for his counter-part, Mike Napoli.

I’m happy Soto gets this opportunity to compete for a ring considering his career has basically trended downwards since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008.

This could very well be the last shot the 29-year-old gets, not just to play for a contender, but to remain in the majors before he hits himself out of the league.

Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo, meanwhile, will fill out the Cubs catching corps nicely throughout the rest of the season.

It was time the Cubs moved on from the underachieving Soto, and time to find out whether Clevenger or Castillo should remain as part of the Cubs rebuilding plan.

WHAT TO EXPECT OF THE PLAYERS COMING IN RETURN

Not surprisingly, the return for Soto is minor league RHP Jacob Brigham. The 24-year-old is (5-5, 4.28 ERA) through 20 starts with Double-A Frisco.

You can read more about Brigham here.

With two trades the Cubs received three minor league hurlers. Knowing trades are never a sure thing, and neither Maholm, Johnson or Soto were of great trade value, my hope is for two of the three prospects to pan out.

It might only be one that finds his way to the Cubs 25-man roster, or none for that matter. But given the current state of the Cubs, these are calculated risks Team Theo needed to make.

Now that the ball’s rolling, it doesn’t appear the Cubs will stop here with player trades–nor should they.

The big fish of Dempster, Garza and Soriano are left to fry. And the best part is, today’s the deadline…no more waiting games.

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Not The Cardinals, Not Again

By bullpenbrian - October 29, 2011 - 1:01 am 2 comments.

When Scott Feldman walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded in the fifth inning I switched the TV off.

St. Louis was leading 4-2 and a gut feeling told me this wasn’t the Rangers’ night. They wouldn’t come back, not even with four innings left to play, and despite all the hysterics that took place the night before. 

It was a similar feeling of doubt I felt Thursday night with Texas leading by three-runs late in Game 6. “Too close, not over,” I thought. 

Unable to bare watching the final innings unfold I turned that game off too, instead opting to listen to the conclusion of Game 6 game on the radio.

Nestled in my office I cranked up the space heater and waited for Texas to celebrate. Of course, that didn’t happen. There I was cold, in the dark, and wondering just how on earth the Rangers had let the series slip to a decisive Game 7.

My nerves were finally spent through five innings Friday night. If Texas came back to win, shame on me for not paying attention. But all I kept thinking was, “Not the Cardinals, not again.”

Only once before had I ever tuned-out a World Series game. Not surprisingly, that came during Game 5 of the 2006 World Series when St. Louis was busy beating the daylights out of Detroit. I simply couldn’t bare the heartache of watching that game either.

There are but three teams I always gain pleasure from watching lose as a Cubs, Colts and Blackhawks fan: The Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Vancouver Canucks.

If Texas could win the World Series I’d have the three-peat in place: Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl and Boston won against Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals. Not to be, I suppose.

With baseball as my first love, however, this one hurts the most. LaRussa, Pujols, Berkman…Ryan expletive Theriot, baseball’s champions.

Not the Cardinals, not again.

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Epic Game 6, But WS Not Over

By bullpenbrian - October 28, 2011 - 2:01 am 2 comments.

This wasn’t the best game ever played in World Series history, but it’s certainly in the conversation…and near the top of the list.

And as thrilling as David Freese’s walkoff HR was, it’s not the best walkoff HR in World Series history, either. Sorry, Cards fans.

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Adrian Beltre This Year’s Edgar Renteria

By bullpenbrian - October 27, 2011 - 2:01 am Leave a comment.

Adrian Beltre has become this October’s version of Edgar Renteria–an accomplished veteran making the most of the postseason.

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Na-Po-Li…M-V-P!

By bullpenbrian - October 25, 2011 - 2:01 am Leave a comment.

With all due respect to Ian Kinsler, who I tabbed as the early favorite to win the World Series MVP Award, Mike Napoli has earned top honors should Texas go on to win it all.

The bearded slugger remains a surprise thorn in the Cardinals side delivering clutch hits throughout the series, including his tiebreaking two-run double in the eight giving the Rangers a 3-2 series advantage in Game 5 Monday night.

Napoli is hitting .308 with 2 HR and a series leading 9 RBI, which nearly matches the offensive output from the rest of the Rangers’ lineup (12 RBI).

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