We’ve all heard and observed the yo-yo’ing of Geovany Soto’s offensive production.
Before his 2007/2008 breakout campaigns, Soto was a relatively light-hitting, solid defensive minor league catcher. In 2006, at AAA Iowa, Soto had a modest .739 OPS. Hopes were low. In 2008 with the Cubs, he was the Rookie of the Year on the strength of an excellent .285/.364/.504 season. Hopes were very high.
Then he stunk in 2009, and dealt with minor injuries. Hopes were low again. But then he was awesome in 2010, and was one of the best bats in the Cubs’ lineup (not to mention one of the best offensive catchers in baseball). Hopes were very high again.
Then last year happened. Expectations fell to “low” once again. Yo-yo.
Before that huge 2010 season, Soto said he gave up some fatty foods, got in great shape, and put himself in a position to succeed. When he showed up in Spring Training, the change was obvious. He looked almost svelte.
You hear those kind of stories frequently. Sometimes they produce huge seasons, but more frequently they are little more than a footnote to another typical season for that player. For Soto, it probably worked.
Here’s hoping it works again. From Cubs.com:
Prior to the 2010 season, Soto reported to camp 40 pounds lighter. That year, he hit .280 with 17 homers in 105 games. But that offseason, he existed on a steady diet of chicken breasts.
“Now, I have a little more carbs in the morning and a lot more balanced [diet], so when I come off the diet I’m not as ferocious hungry as before,” he said Wednesday at Fitch Park after an early hitting session in the batting cages.
“Now, I have a better balance [in my diet],” he said. “[Cubs outfielder] Marlon Byrd and I are going to be on the same program and keep the weight off. He looks unbelievable. I just want to stay in shape and get the club some wins.”
Byrd saw a nutritionist this offseason and discovered he was allergic to milk and wheat, which prompted him to alter his diet. He lost more than 20 pounds, too.
The struggle for Soto is keeping the weight off during the season.
“Sometimes you throw away the diet after catching nine innings in a day game,” he said. “I think I’ve made the adjustment in the eating program. I know what to do to keep it off.”
Soto added that he’s been working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo on his approach at the plate, both the mental side and the physical side. Soto is looking to put less pressure on himself from at-bat to at-bat, and focus on the minor adjustments Jaramillo suggested.
The good news, in addition to the whole “great shape” and “working on my approach” bits, is that Soto’s 2011 season was actually not as bad as it looked. Yes, the .228/.310/.411 slash line looks ugly, but it was actually good enough for a 96 OPS+. Being 4% below average isn’t exactly awful for a catcher. His .280 BABIP was a full 30 points below his career average to that point, which suggests he was quite unlucky.
Even if it weren’t for the yo-yo history (which is not, to me, a meaningful predictive method), there are reasons to be optimistic about Soto’s production in 2012. Here’s hoping he gets off to a fast start, for any number of reasons…