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It seems like eons ago that Geovany Soto broke out, and then took home the National League Rookie of the Year award. So terrible was his 2009 campaign that it obscures how tremendous he was just the year before. In 2008, he hit .285, had a .364 OBP, and a sparkling .504 slugging percentage. In 2009, those numbers plummeted to .218, .321, and .381, respectively. Health problems played a role, but so did a lack of conditioning and early-season distractions (of the herbal variety).

And then there was the speculation that Soto’s surprising offensive breakout in 2007 and 2008 – and it was very surprising – had been given a medicinal assist. Now, Soto says he’s back in shape, ready to go in 2010, and any speculation about performance-enhancing drugs is ridiculous.

“I’m anxious to go out there,” Soto said after taking a batting-practice session. “I’m anxious to play. I felt like (last year) was a knockout in the second round, if I was a boxer. So I’m just ready to go out there. I’m well trained. My head’s clear.

“I owe it to the fans and myself and my teammates, more importantly. I just want to be there for them.”…

Most statistical projections suggest Soto will bounce back this year. If there’s one stat that portends well, according to the number-crunchers, it’s Soto’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year, which was .251, down from .337 from 2008. That suggests that Soto may have hit into some bad luck, with the batted balls that found holes in 2008 being caught in 2009.

No matter what the stats say, Soto says he knows he has to put himself in the best possible position to succeed in 2010.

Hence, the weight loss of about 40 pounds over this winter.

On Tuesday, he laughed off speculation the weight loss might have been caused by something sinister. There had been talk on Chicago’s airwaves that the weight loss may have been caused by Soto getting off performance-enhancing drugs.

“I laugh at that,” he said. “Throughout my whole life, I’ve had weight problems and stuff, and I’ve always been kind of immature in terms of diet, and never (would) stick to them. I had such a bad year that I was disappointed in myself, and I was willing to take that step and, ‘OK, I’m really going to work hard, and I’m really going to just take it to the next level.’

“To me, it’s just kind of ridiculous. I wasn’t strong; I was just fat. My whole life. I’ve had problems my whole life. Not problems, but I just wasn’t educated in a way.

“I stick to a program, and it’s worked. I’m really happy I did it because I feel a lot better. Now, I’m just worried about going to play baseball instead of my weight and my cardio in the morning. I just have a clear head. Do my work afterwards just like everybody else. I have a lot of energy.” Daily Herald.

A healthy, productive Soto completely transforms the Cubs lineup. Together with Alfonso Soriano, Soto’s performance this year may dictate how the Cubs’ season goes.

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