In terms of predicting what 2010 will bring, there may be no more intriguing player on the Cubs' roster than Geovany Soto. He had a Tiger Woods-like dropoff from 2008 to 2009 (okay, not quite on the level of Tiger Woods, but still), making it nearly impossible to judge what this season will bring. Here are his last two seasons in condensed format:
2008: NL Rookie of the Year; first-ever rookie catcher to start for the NL All-Star team; 23 home runs; .285 average
2009: tested positive for marijuana during WBC; missed about one-third of the season due to oblique and right shoulder injuries; 11 home runs; .218 average
So what happened in 2009? There are several possible explanations:
1) Sophomore slump
Perhaps this cliched phenomenon exists, perhaps it doesn't. But baseball is a game of adjustments, and it stands to reason that a rookie who takes the league by storm might not find success so easily in the following season. With scouting reports, pitch charts, etc., many hitters and pitchers get "figured out" after a while. In fact, over 60% of those named Rookie of the Year have declined in their sophomore season. Soto's decline was precipitous, but maybe it was exactly what we all feared might happen after his amazing and somewhat unexpected rookie season--a sophomore slump. (hat tip: Hardball Times)
2) The s-word
That's right, steroids. I certainly don't want to believe it, and I'm not saying I do. But if we're throwing out possible reasons for Soto's huge drop-off, I think this has to be on the list. His home run totals in his professional career (minors and majors combined) go like this:
And then he lost 40 pounds this past offseason. Again, I hope there's no truth to this speculation, but I'm just sayin'.
3) Out of shape
Perhaps Soto just let himself go prior to 2009, and his inflated weight led to injuries and struggles at the plate. It'd be great if this were the reason for his dismal 2009 given that he has clearly re-committed himself to getting into shape.
4) World Baseball Classic
It's impossible to know whether the WBC is actually at fault for some of its participants' struggles last season, but guys like Jimmy Rollins, Dice-K and Jake Peavy all struggled after taking part in the event. Soto will have all of spring training to prepare this year, so let's hope the WBC was at least partly to blame for what happened last year.
While it may be the easy thing to predict, I think Soto's 2010 numbers will fall somewhere between those of 2008 and 2009. I think 20 home runs and 75 RBI are certainly within reach if he plays a full season, and a .270 average seems about right.
What do you think? Have I underestimated his potential? Or am I too optimistic about a rebound given that he's had just one good year in the majors?