Musick: Cubs farmhand Soto, a D-C grad, focuses on strong comeback
At some point, you’ll know the whole story.
Elliot Soto doesn’t want to publicly divulge the details. Not yet, anyway. For now, the Dundee-Crown graduate and Cubs farmhand wants to keep the conversation focused on his return to baseball and his goal of playing in the major leagues.
Still, though, a 50-game suspension to start the season looks pretty bad.
Soto understands. He takes full responsibility for the suspension, which came as a result of violating minor league baseball’s drug program.
He’ll report to Cubs minor league camp on April 3 and expects to resume playing sometime in late May after his suspension is lifted.
“I made a bad mistake,” said Soto, the Northwest Herald’s player of the year in 2007. “I didn’t follow the rules. And I’m sorry for it.
“But I realized it, learned from it. And I’m working twice as hard, ready to come back and show what I can do.”
The jaded reaction would be to scoff, to flip the page to some other sports story. That’s understandable. The past decade is littered with empty baseball apologies.
But if you’re still here, if you haven’t flipped the page yet, then maybe you have rebounded from a mistake or two of your own. And maybe you’ll be more willing to believe Soto, 24, as he describes his hunger to succeed in the game that he loves.
Since he graduated from Dundee-Crown almost seven years ago, Soto has experienced more highs and lows than a busy pilot. He was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins but instead decided to accept a scholarship offer from Creighton. In 2010, the Cubs drafted him out of college in the 15th round.
Soto quickly advanced to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies during his second full season in 2012, but last year delivered a setback. A pair of thumb injuries prompted two trips to the disabled list, and he eventually was replaced at shortstop by one of the Cubs’ top prospects, Javier Baez.
After a difficult stint on the Smokies’ bench, Soto was demoted to the Advanced-A Daytona Cubs so that he could receive more playing time.
Instead of resenting the demotion, Soto focused on the positives.
“To be honest, it [stinks] getting moved down,” Soto said. “But at the same time, I was like, ‘All right, here we go. I’m going to play every day.’
“It made me feel better. It made me feel like they cared that I improved.”
Soto did improve, helping Daytona win the Florida State League championship with his excellent fielding and a .244 average with 18 RBIs in 39 games.
Defense always has been – and probably always will be – Soto’s strength as a player. He has worked out at The Power Alley’s batting cages in Cary this winter, trying to produce more line drives and fewer fly balls, in an effort to round out his game.
“I have an infatuation with defense,” Soto said. “I love it. I just think it’s really fun to play defense.
“I always liked the Omar Vizquels, Ozzie Smiths, those guys – even Jack Wilson. Those guys that can do really crazy stuff with their hands. That’s what I want to be.”
Yet Soto knows that he is capable of hitting well enough to climb through the system. He draws inspiration from friends such as Junior Lake and Logan Watkins, who played with him in the minor leagues before debuting with the Cubs in 2013.
On Aug. 4, Soto was in the Daytona Cubs’ clubhouse as Watkins stepped to the plate for his major league debut at Wrigley Field. When Watkins recorded his first big league hit, a single to left field to load the bases against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Soto snapped a picture of a raucous Daytona clubhouse and texted it to Watkins.
Later on, Watkins told Soto that the image had given him goosebumps.
Soto believes that he is capable of his own goosebumps moment. If anything, the turbulence of last season has made him more determined.
“If I ever did not have eyes on the big leagues, I would hang them up,” Soto said. “It’s just having your eye on the prize. It’s everyone’s dream to make it to the big leagues.
“For me, being a Chicago kid, to make it to the Cubs would be unbelievable.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.