Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Can Geovany Soto rebound after a poor 2009?
After winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2008, the Chicago Cubs' Geovany Soto was hit hard by the sophomore jinx in an injury-plagued 2009, sinking to a .218 average with just 11 homers. He entered 2009 appropriately ranked as a top-five catcher, but proceeded to finish No. 33 on the Player Rater, behind such players as Nick Hundley and Omir Santos. Not exactly what fantasy owners had in mind.
Yet here we are at ESPN Fantasy, ranking him No. 9 among catchers. Part of that, of course, is because of the lack of depth at catcher. But suffice it to say we fully remember how much of a fantasy beast Soto can be, and feel there were plenty of reasons for his dropoff in 2009. He suffered a shoulder injury in early April, and while he never spent time on the disabled list for that ailment, it took him weeks to get comfortable at the plate again (his batting average didn't get safely above the Mendoza Line until late May). And just about the time he started heating up again at the plate, Soto suffered an oblique injury in July, and this time he landed on the disabled list for a month. His bat never really returned after that, and by the end of the season he was sharing regular duties with Koyie Hill.
With an eye on avoiding injuries and being able to withstand another 140-game season behind the plate like he did in 2008, Soto made a concerted effort to get in shape this offseason, and he appears to have done so by losing 40 pounds this winter by working with a personal trainer and improving his diet. Interestingly enough, Soto reportedly shed about 30 pounds before the 2007 season, then seemingly came out of nowhere to hit .353 with 26 homers for Triple-A Iowa, putting himself on the fantasy radar in the process.
So Soto enters camp in good shape; that's one promising sign for a rebound. But the other good sign is that some of his peripheral stats seem to signal that his 2009 was an anomaly, at least compared to his 2008 rookie of the year campaign or his '07 minor league breakout.
First off, his walk rate increased -- he walked in 11 percent of his plate appearances in 2008 and 12.9 percent in 2009 -- and his strikeout rate decreased (21.5 percent in 2008 to 19.8 percent in 2009), both showing that he has improved his already-decent patience at the plate.
Secondly, he might have been a victim of bad luck, as evidenced by a paltry .246 batting average on balls in play, compared to a .332 BABIP in 2008. His fly-ball rate, according to FanGraphs, remained mostly the same between 2008 and 2009 (41.4 percent in '08, 41.3 percent in '09), but he hit more ground balls (40.5 percent in 2009 versus 37.7 percent in 2008) at the expense of line drives (18.1 percent in 2009 versus 21 percent in 2009). It's possible that his injuries prevented him from getting better contact on the ball, and the rather slow Soto isn't going to be legging out many grounders, so a higher ground-ball rate would mean a drop in BABIP, but not quite to that extent. The 86-point drop does point to a little bad luck.
So if a now-healthy Soto regains both his average and power stroke, the question then becomes what type of run production to expect. Soto likely will be hitting in the lower half of the order, potentially sixth or seventh behind the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome or Xavier Nady. They probably won't be a drag on Soto's potential RBI total, although it'll be hard to expect him to drive in 100 from that part of the lineup.
Our current projections believe he'll be closer to his 2008 numbers rather than his 2009 stats, but our current rankings also build in the possibility that his performance might be somewhere in between. So his average draft position (ADP), at least in relation to his fellow catchers, will be very interesting to track throughout the spring.
Sure, he shouldn't be taken near the "elite" options at the position, such as Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann and possibly Matt Wieters. But I wouldn't have a problem drafting Soto around the same time as or even ahead of Miguel Montero (this year's young catcher coming off a big season) or Jorge Posada (aging but steady), possibly in the 16th or 17th round, compared to the 21st-round grade at which we have him projected. In effect, I might end up taking him close to where he was drafted last year.
Regardless, I don't think Soto will be cursed again; I'm expecting a bounce-back. As for the rest of his team, well, that's a whole different matter.
James Quintong is an editor for ESPN Fantasy. You can also find him on Twitter at @jquintong.