Alfonso Soriano’s improvement in left field this year wasn’t easy to see early on. Slowed by a knee injury (and residual knee problems), Soriano looked like the guy we’d come to expect out there: slow to react, no range, weak routes, and poor decision-making.
But then something happened. It took a while to overcome the narrative we’ve all been so used to, but Soriano started playing … well. Of course, we later learned that he would have been playing well all along if he’d been healthy. Thanks to offseason coaching, and in-season work, primarily with Dave McKay, Soriano’s defense in left looked passable. Heck, he arguably rocketed past “passable,” and reached “solid.” He makes very few mistakes, and, although he still doesn’t have great range, he takes good routes and seems to get a good read on the ball right off the bat.
Dave McKay must be a genius! Well, maybe. But it turns out he’s also simply the first coach to actually work with Soriano on outfield defense. From Sahadev Sharma:
His improvements defensively have also contributed in making this one of Soriano’s better all-around seasons with the Cubs. Soriano admitted that this year was the first time he’s ever gotten instruction on how to play the outfield. First base coach Dave McKay routinely coaches all the outfielders on how to play defense.
That revelation is all the more surprising considering that Soriano moved from second base to left field in spring training of 2006, his only season with the Washington Nationals. Soriano said that the only ‘coaching’ he got at that time and prior to this season was shagging fly balls during batting practice.
Certainly the Cubs were entitled to some belief that Soriano knew what he was doing out there when he came to the team in 2007 after spending what looked like a decent defensive year in left field for the Nationals. But just as certainly, the Cubs had to have noticed his weaknesses out there in the FIVE YEARS he spent in the organization before the 2012 season. Not once did they think, “hey, maybe we should coach this guy up a little bit”? Unbelievable.
That Soriano received no individual coaching in the outfield is as much an indictment of Lou Piniella and Mike Quade as it is a compliment of Dale Sveum and Dave McKay.
To think what might have been if Soriano had been this caliber of outfielder at age 32, let alone now at age 36.