With catcher arguably the most important position on the diamond, the Cubs seem to have found a solid foundation for the future—hopefully.
Geovany Soto proved that he certainly had the talent to repeat and even build upon his rookie campaign after that came into question in the 2009 season.
There is no doubt Soto can hit. The question for the upcoming season—and seasons beyond—is whether or not Soto can stay healthy. Catcher is no doubt the most physically taxing position to field, and the ability to stay healthy is always a crapshoot.
That said, Soto has run into injury problems of his own. He hurt his knee in August, and while he spent a short four days off the field, his ability to hit took a noticeable slide. Considering the pressure on the knees it takes from the catcher’s crouch, this could be a recurring problem. He also had season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, but this should not be a problem in the future.
Besides the injuries that were dealt to the starting Cub catcher, Soto had a remarkable season at the plate. He hit for a .282 average on the year and improved his patience stats along the way, walking 16 percent of the time. He also showed his 2008 power wasn’t a fluke, as he hit for 17 home runs—five less than 2008, but with 176 less plate appearances, a result of Lou Piniella’s fascination with Koyie Hill.
Given increased playing time from new Cubs manager Mike Quade, look for Soto to continue improving his game with more and more major league experience (only two full years of ML service time).
Hill filled in quite a bit in Soto’s stead, as Piniella tried to incorporate him into the Cubs lineup, seeing him as a better receiver than Soto. The fact is that Hill was a huge detriment to the Cubs offense when he played. Hill hit for a terrible .214 batting average, and his .298 slugging percentage was a figure that reminded Cubs fans of Juan Pierre.
Striking out almost 30 percent of the time, Hill was just downright terrible at the plate. He only walked 15 times in 231 plate appearances, and three of those were intentional. The idea that Hill was just a Jason Kendall-type slap hitter is irrational. Hill hit for a below-average contact rate, and pitchers were not afraid to attack him, throwing an above-average number of first strikes.
Hill was essentially a replacement player, meaning you could find equal value out of the position from a typical Triple-A catcher.
Hill’s arbitration clock has hit three years, meaning that the Cubs may just decide to non-tender him and not give him a pay raise, meaning that they will simply cut ties with him without any penalty to the franchise.
Wellington Castillo would provide an ample backup if the Cubs were to non-tender Hill, as he showed he can essentially provide the same production at a cheaper cost.
Castillo has showed flashes of power in his minor league career and even at the major league level this past summer, smashing five extra base hits in 20 at-bats. His main fault at the plate is a glaring lack of patience, as he walked only 7.7 percent of the time this past summer between Triple-A Iowa and a short showing with the Major League club.
I think Castillo can provide a more than serviceable backup to Geovany Soto and a viable replacement option for Koyie Hill.
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