02/16/12 10:30 AM EST
Equilibrium essential for slimmed-down Soto
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- It's all a matter of balance for Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.
He's working on better balance in his diet, which should help Soto keep off the 25 pounds he dropped this offseason. He's also been working on improving his balance at the plate, and spent the winter focused on his footwork on the advice of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
On Sunday, Soto will officially get to work when Cubs pitchers and catchers have their first session under new manager Dale Sveum at Fitch Park. The Cubs' No. 1 catcher has been in Arizona for a couple days to get settled, show off his slim physique and start swinging.
He's lost weight before. Prior to the 2010 season, Soto reported to camp 40 pounds lighter. That year, he hit .280 with 17 homers in 105 games. But that offseason, he existed on a steady diet of chicken breasts.
"Now, I have a little more carbs in the morning and a lot more balanced [diet], so when I come off the diet I'm not as ferocious hungry as before," he said Wednesday at Fitch Park after an early hitting session in the batting cages.
"Now, I have a better balance [in my diet]," he said. "[Cubs outfielder] Marlon Byrd and I are going to be on the same program and keep the weight off. He looks unbelievable. I just want to stay in shape and get the club some wins."
Byrd saw a nutritionist this offseason and discovered he was allergic to milk and wheat, which prompted him to alter his diet. He lost more than 20 pounds, too.
The struggle for Soto is keeping the weight off during the season.
"Sometimes you throw away the diet after catching nine innings in a day game," he said. "I think I've made the adjustment in the eating program. I know what to do to keep it off."
Last season, Soto's fourth full year in the big leagues, he hit a disappointing .228. His 17 homers did rank third among National League catchers. But he's been inconsistent since his breakout 2008 season when he won Rookie of the Year, hitting .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs.
"Working with Rudy, I haven't been doing the adjustments I need to be doing as Rudy has said," Soto said. "I need to keep with my plan.
"Sometimes I'm a little hard on myself and that gets me a little down," he said. "I love this club and I like to win and I want to help the club win and sometimes when I don't do that I get frustrated with myself. This year, I have a new mentality and I want to do the best on the field."
The problem wasn't Jaramillo's plan, but more the mind games that can happen in baseball. Soto is trying to learn how to forget bad at-bats and move on.
"I wanted to hit a five-run home run after going 0-for-2," he said. "I just have to take one at-bat at a time and make the adjustment I need to make and work on a consistent basis."
Every offseason when Soto, 29, returns to his home in Puerto Rico, he takes time to reflect and then starts looking ahead.
"Every year, I come with the same mentality and come prepared and ready to do a great job, but this game is a mental game as well," he said. "Taking stuff too much to heart -- that's a problem, too. You've got to find a nice balance and whatever happens the day before, leave it in the past and live in the present. That's the main thing for me -- and keep healthy and the numbers will be there."
Jaramillo asked Soto to work on his footwork this offseason. It will provide a solid base -- and better balance -- for the season.
"He emphasized the adjustments I need to make at the plate," Soto said of an end-of-the-season meeting with the hitting coach. "Obviously, he emphasized it all year. If my head's not there, it's a bigger transition to make the adjustment. I'm just going to leave my ego on the side and just do whatever Rudy says. He's the best in the game. I'm going to make my adjustments and keep playing hard with a good mentality to win."
The Cubs head into this spring looking for a new backup catcher following the departure of Koyie Hill, who signed with the Cardinals. The candidates include Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo, who is no relation to Rudy. Soto feels he's still fighting for a spot, too.
"I'm going to be playing like I've got no job -- that's the way I've always played and that's the way I like to play," Soto said. "It's not the competition, but I expect a lot from me and I'm going to try to get the most out of me on the field."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.