MESA, Ariz. -- Geovany Soto isn't a rookie anymore, but he's approaching this season as if he is still a first-year player battling for a job with the Cubs.

Soto is coming off a stellar freshman year in which he batted .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs, winning the National League Rookie of the Year. He could have rested on his laurels and taken it easy this winter. But Soto was one of the early birds in camp at Fitch Park on Thursday. Pitchers and catchers report on Friday. Soto looks as if he's lost weight, but says that he's at his playing weight.

"I just tried to do the same thing," Soto said of his workout program. "You have to prepare for the season for eight months. You might as well go to the track and the field and work on what you need to work on. When you're down [weight-wise], it's easier to keep it down."

His left hand, which was sore at the end of the season and in the playoffs, is 100 percent healed. He's been hitting for about a month, working on his stroke. That's good news for the Cubs, who have high expectations for the young catcher.

"I'm not going to try to put extra pressure on me," Soto said. "If it goes well, good; if not, I'll work at what I need to do. I'll do the same thing I did last year and I'll try to have a better year and help the club."

He doesn't feel like a seasoned pro.

"I would like to feel like a veteran -- I do feel a little more comfortable," Soto said. "But I don't want to. I want to feel like I'm fighting for a job. That's how I know how to play. It keeps me aggressive, it keeps me on edge. That's the way I want to approach it."

He'll be tackling his workload without his mentor, Henry Blanco. The Cubs did not pick up Blanco's option for 2009 and he signed with the San Diego Padres. The team has to determine a backup this spring, and Koyie Hill and Paul Bako are the candidates.

Blanco talked to Soto, 26, every day during the season and guided the young catcher. What will Soto do without the veteran?

"It's going to be really hard," Soto said. "[Blanco] told me, 'You're ready, you're good, you're ready to go, you're a great player.' The business is like this and you can't really control [what happened]. You just go play where you need to play and that's the bottom line."

Soto doesn't have a souvenir from the veteran, except the message Blanco repeated to him in each phone call.

"He kept telling me, 'You're ready, don't worry about anything,'" Soto said. "'Just keep doing what you're supposed to be doing, keep working the way you're supposed to be working and you'll be fine.'"

He's been focused. Asked if he was eager to get back to baseball after the news of the week regarding Alex Rodriguez and his confession regarding performance-enhancing drugs and Miguel Tejada's legal problems, Soto shrugged.

"I really didn't know about those stories," Soto said. "I'd be at the track, going to the field. I was concentrating on my guys, getting in touch with the pitchers and being ready to go. I'm anxious to hit the field now."

What can Cubs fans expect in his sophomore season? Thirty homers? One hundred RBIs?

"I think that's the error that some players make, to try to do too much," Soto said. "I'm going to try to do whatever I'm capable of and stay within my game. If I try to hit more home runs, it's not going to work. I have to be myself and see what happens."