Soto the leading candidate for NL ROY
Catcher would be fifth Cub to win top rookie honors
CHICAGO -- He's been tabbed the top National League rookie twice by his peers and on Monday, the Cubs' Geovany Soto will learn if he's the best freshman in the league according to the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Soto, 25, is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year after hitting .285 with 23 homers, 35 doubles and 86 RBIs in his first full season. He led all Major League rookies in RBIs, finishing with one more than Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, who is the leading candidate to win American League Rookie of the Year.
Last month, Soto was named the Sporting News' Rookie of the Year in voting by a panel of 314 Major League players. He also was voted the top freshmen in the 2008 Players Choice Awards, presented by the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Yahoo! Sports.
The Cubs, who won the National League Central for the second straight year, compiled the third-lowest ERA in the league.
"For a young catcher, he handles pitchers as well as anybody I've been around," Chicago pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
Soto could be the first catcher to win the NL award since Mike Piazza did so 15 years ago. Other candidates this year include Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens, who was 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA in 31 starts, and Cincinnati's Joey Votto, who batted .297 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs.
This has been a magical season for Soto. He was the first rookie catcher to start in an All-Star Game, doing so at Yankee Stadium in July. On Sept. 14, he was behind the plate for Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter, but refused to accept any praise.
"I just want to win ballgames, and this is all extra," Soto said after the historic game against the Houston Astros, played at Miller Park after Hurricane Ike struck Houston. "This is awesome. Enough about me, it's [Zambrano's] day. He was pitching, and he deserves all the credit."
On Sept. 18, Soto delivered a game-tying, three-run homer with two outs in the ninth that forced extra innings against Milwaukee. The Cubs rallied to win, 7-6, on Derrek Lee's RBI single in the 12th.
"I was surprised when I came over here and first had a chance to work with him," Chicago pitcher Rich Harden said of the young catcher. "For a rookie, he's got a very good idea back there. It's not just handling the pitching staff and calling pitches, but at the plate, he's done some amazing things."
Milwaukee's Ryan Braun won the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year award after hitting .324 with 34 homers and 97 RBIs. The last Cubs player to take home the honor was Kerry Wood, who went 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and struck out 233 in 1998. Wood received 16 first-place votes and 128 total points, while Colorado's Todd Helton finished second with 15 first-place votes and 119 points. Before Wood, Jerome Walton won the NL ROY in 1989 when he hit .293.
If the Cubs could vote, Soto would be a unanimous winner.
"It was wonderful to see a kid like that develop," said Cubs coach Matt Sinatro, who worked with the catcher. "We knew we had something special in Spring Training. I think everybody knew he'd be a nice hitter. He's a take charge guy, a leader."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.