I know that we are still in Spring Training, but there are a few players in camp for the Chicago Cubs who are catching fans eyes. One Cub specifically, who might be the most despised player in a Cubs uniform, is getting a lot of chatter out there for a possible return to the greatness that landed him the monstrous contract that fans love to complain about.
Alfonso Soriano has been on a year this spring, and is looking much younger than his 36 years. He is running hard both on the field and around the bases, which makes you wonder if his legs are finally healthy after injuring one muscle or another at least once a year since his arrival in 2007. ESPN had a fine article chronicling his troubling injury history which have left Soriano with legs which may never be fully healthy again.
In 2007, people often forget that he injured his hamstring in the first month of his Cubs career busting his ass running from first to third and then later the same year he injured his quadriceps in a similar fashion. Those injuries started a trend which continued every year where the injuries continued to haunt his Cubs career. In 2008, again in April, Soriano tore his calf muscle, again busting his ass around the bases. After that injury, everyone could tell that he became a weaker and apparently lazier runner on the base paths. He simply did not trust his legs, perhaps because his legs were not fully healthy or maybe because he feared another injury resulting in another trip to the disabled list. Regardless of the reasons why, he quit trying to go for the extra base and was hit with extreme heat by the fans, being called lazy and was said that he simply did not care.
The leg injuries do not stop there for Soriano unfortunately. In 2009 April once again hit Soriano hard, leaving him with yet another leg injury. On a deep fly ball, Soriano went crashing into Wrigley’s brick wall banging his knee in the process, which he played with all season. At the end of the year, he had his knee scoped in hopes that would bring his legs back to 100%. While he did not suffer any major injures the past two years, his legs were apparently shot, leaving him as half the players thought they were getting when they signed him.
This Spring, however, all reports on Soriano have been positive. Manager Dale Sveum has gone on record that he wants Soriano to be the leader of the Cubs, and lead by example. So far in camp, he has not let anyone down and is playing ball better than most of us have seen out of him in a long time.
He has been making running grabs in the outfield, and is once again showing some of the speed on the base paths that saw him steal 40 bases in 2006. While he will never be a 40 stolen base player again, seeing him run hard on the base paths might be one of the most promising signs that he is due for a big year. His base running even earned a backhanded compliment from teammate Darwin Barney, who when asked about aggressiveness on the base paths said “Everyone is running hard. You have Soriano running hard on the bases station to station. No one can not run hard if Soriano is running hard.”
The base paths are not the only place Soriano looks to have found the fountain of youth though, in the batter’s box he appears to be a completely new hitter. According to World Series Dreaming writer “Bleacher Bum” his entire posture in the batter’s box has completely changed. His leg kick is shorter and his bat speed is much faster. He is leading the club in home runs and is second on the team in RBI behind Joe Mather who looks like he might beat out Tony Campana for the final spot on the Cubs roster.
I know that this is only Spring Training, and I am always very vocal about not taking Spring Training stats too seriously. Fortunately, that is not what I am doing at all here. Even though I did mention his stats, the more important issue is how he is looking in the field, on the base paths and while hitting. He has looked extremely impressive thus far and the hope is that he is able to carry this all over when games actually start to count in April. If he is able to do this when the games matter, he might be able to win back some of the love the fans had for him back in 2007 and 2008.
If Soriano continues this level of play when games actually start to matter, the Cubs might be able to pull off a surprise season, as long as everyone else plays the way they are supposed to as well.