Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano was something of a non-issue last year.
Not because there weren’t storylines swirling around him, but instead because he didn’t really show much to talk about on the field. He missed a third of the season with knee issues, and when he did play, he put up the worst numbers of his career. The Cubs hope offseason knee surgery will straighten things out, but we’re certain to continue hearing about the knee all season.
“He’s healthy, and we expect him to be a better all-around player,” Piniella said.
Soriano has been working hard with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. One suggestion Jaramillo has made is for Soriano to shorten his stride. Second baseman Mike Fontenot and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome also are trying to make that adjustment.
This will be the first year in which Soriano will not be leading off for the Cubs. He was dropped to sixth in the lineup last July 4. He batted .268 in 41 games there while hitting .228 as the leadoff man.
“I think he’s fine with it,” Piniella said of the switch. “We’re not going to expect 30 stolen bases from him or anything like that. Hitting in the sixth hole, he can save his legs a little more.
“What we need from Alfonso is some power and RBI production. The six hole is a really nice spot to hit in a National League lineup. I know he’s comfortable with it because I’ve asked him. Let’s hope he has an injury-free season and gets back to where he was a couple years ago and [is] a little more disciplined and [has] a healthy season, and a productive one.”
Being healthy should definitely help Soriano in the outfield. He totaled seven outfield assists last season, the first time he did not finish in double figures since he was converted to an outfielder. Soriano led the Major Leagues with 22 assists in 2006. A big part of the problem was that he couldn’t plant on his left leg because of his sore knee.
Whether or not the Cubs will sub someone in late innings for Soriano has yet to be determined.
“Let’s see how this team is put together,” Piniella said. “I was talking to my coaches today and we have some work to do here outfield-wise. We need to find one other outfielder in camp who can swing the bat a little bit and at the same time play good defense for us.
“Right now, I’d like to just let them play and let them go. One thing we need to do is I need to rest [Soriano] a little more. We’ll do that.” cubs.com.
Soriano is expected to play in his first Spring Training game this weekend, and the Cubs will assuredly take it easy with him all Spring.
Putting Soriano down in the order is, of course, a good and necessary idea. But putting him in the six-hole, where the hitter behind him will likely be someone like Mike Fontenot? That could create a lot of non-fastball at bats for Soriano, where we all know he’s bound to fail. Hopefully he shows he’s fully healed and has his bat speed back so that the Cubs can move him at least to the five-hole where he’s more likely to see fastballs, with men on base. Marlon Byrd may do some things well, but getting on base is not one of them.