Cubs have lofty aspirations for Soto

Cubs have lofty aspirations for Soto

CHICAGO -- Keep an eye on Geovany Soto. He could be the Cubs' starting catcher in 2008.

Soto, the MVP of the Pacific Coast League this year, went 2-for-3 Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also scored from first on a double and handled Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly well. It was the first time Soto had caught the left-hander, too.

"Look at his numbers at Triple-A and they're pretty darn good," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Soto, who batted .353 with 31 doubles, 26 homers and 109 RBIs for Triple-A Iowa.

"We liked him this spring," Piniella said. "He did a nice job last night with the pitcher, did a nice job swinging the bat, and scored from first on a double. He's a good-looking player. We're going to give him some playing time here in September. How much, we'll see. He didn't come here to sit."

Soto arrived in Spring Training about 20 pounds lighter, having followed some nutrition advice from Cubs Minor League pitcher Ryan O'Malley and sticking to the same program Kerry Wood used. Plus, Henry Blanco helped Soto with his workouts.

"This is a guy who's going to be good," Blanco said. "He showed he can do it. All I can do is help. I'm happy to help him out, and hopefully next year he'll stay with the team and play every day. He just has to keep working hard and do his thing."

Blanco said Soto is realizing how much better he is at 218 pounds than he was at 245. The young catcher began this season a career .262 hitter in the Minor Leagues.

"He's noticed the difference," Blanco said. "He noticed things he couldn't do before, he can do now, hitting and catching. Hopefully, he'll stay that way."

"You've got to like the young man," Piniella said. "We've had other kids come up here from Triple-A with high averages, but this kid has high average, a lot of RBIs and a lot of home runs.

"I see a kid here who could be the No. 1 catcher next spring," Piniella said.

Soto's ready.

"I've been in this organization for seven years, and I think I've progressed every year, I've been doing better every year," he said. "I think I'm ready to play up here in the big leagues, and I hope they give me a chance."

It is tough to give up cheeseburgers.

"During the baseball season, it's really tough to follow any kind of diet because you've got late-night eating and road trips and stuff," he said. "As long as you keep straight and eat healthy, it was a good thing for me to do, and I'm glad I did it."

He's solid defensively, which is a compliment considering Soto actually was a third baseman before getting to the Cubs' Minor League system. In rookie ball, he was converted to catcher.

"They said, 'Hey, you're a catcher, go get your gear,'" Soto said. "I said, 'OK, let's go.' I did the tryouts in Puerto Rico, and I was throwing a lot to second base. I wasn't that unfamiliar with the position. I just had to get it down."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.