"First and foremost, I did it for me, because I feel better. I love the Cubs and I want to win. That's the bottom line."
Soto, who turns 27 on Wednesday, wasn't too happy with the Cubs' second-place finish last season. He had been to the postseason the two previous years, taking over for Jason Kendall in the playoffs in two of the three playoff games in 2007 and starting all three in '08. That '08 season was special as Soto won National League Rookie of the Year, batting .285 with 23 homers, 35 doubles and 86 RBIs.
But he struggled last year and battled a sore right shoulder and an oblique injury. In 102 games, he batted .218 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. That's a sophomore slump.
"We talked to Soto after the season was over and told him, 'Look, you've got to lose some weight,'" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We thought 10, 15 pounds, but when I saw him the other day, he looked like a jockey. I mean that very complimentary. He looked wonderful."
Piniella, Soto's teammates and general manager Jim Hendry got their first look at the slimmed down catcher at the weekend Cubs Convention.
"I saw him and I hadn't seen him since the season ended and I said, 'Boy, you look like you're in great shape,'" Hendry said. "He said, 'We're not having this not winning again.' It wasn't, 'Look how hard I worked.' The first comment was that he was ticked off that we didn't win. I think that will be the attitude [with the team]."
Soto worked with a personal trainer in Puerto Rico and switched to a steady diet of fish, chicken and vegetables.
"I'm not thinking about me, I'm thinking about us as a team," Soto said. "I want to play good, be there for my teammates."
Could he be too thin?
"I don't know," Soto said. "It's weird, I feel like a 12-year-old. I have a lot of energy, I'm wired all day. I have a little one now [daughter Gia Leizan]. It's helped me at home. I give [wife Luzem] some rest.
"I'm active all day," Soto said. "I used to be sluggish, I'd want to take a nap. Now, I feel great. I want to put myself in the best position to help the club. The better I feel, if I'm agile back there, it will give me the best opportunity to not get hurt. I want to be there for my teammates."
It took pitcher Sean Marshall a few double-takes before he recognized his catcher. Pitcher Ted Lilly said he was impressed at the discipline Soto showed this offseason. Soto simply started eating "clean." He did a lot of aerobic exercises, agility work and running.
"I feel great -- I feel awesome," Soto said.
He couldn't say that when the 2009 season ended.
"It was a disappointing season," Soto said. "For me it was. The goal here is that we have a terrific team, we have a lot of great guys in the clubhouse, and we've just got to put it together and we can do great things. We saw it in 2008, why not do it again? Last year, it didn't work. [Now] 2010 is a new year."
And a new Soto.