Soto looks to forge his own identity
Tribe's lanky lefty shares name, not frame, with Cubs catcher
EASTLAKE, Ohio -- It was a traditional, two-team trade that sent Jhonny Peralta from the Indians to the Tigers two weeks ago. But baseball fans who heard about the trade through word of mouth can be forgiven if they thought the Cubs were somehow involved.No, the Indians did not acquire injured Cubs catcher Geovany Soto in a three-team swap. In shipping Peralta, a former core player, to a division rival, they hauled in Class A left-hander Giovanni Soto. The Cubs' Soto and the Tribe's Soto are both Puerto Rican and both play baseball, but the comparisons end there. Suffice to say Giovanni Soto, who was assigned to Class A Lake County after the trade, does not possess a catcher's body or anything even broadly resembling such a frame. At 6-foot-3, 155 pounds, he is tall enough to have some presence on the mound but skinny enough to look as though a stiff breeze might blow him into the outfield. Soto, though, is just 19 years old, so he has plenty of time to eat his Wheaties and pound those protein shakes. "He's tall, and he's got some wide shoulders," said Lake County pitching coach Mickey Callaway. "He can probably carry a little more weight and maybe throw a little harder once he does. He's exciting to watch and a good guy to have in the organization." To get Soto into the organization and find a taker for Peralta, the Indians had to fork over some cash. They are responsible for the bulk of the remainder of Peralta's $4.6 million contract, so they essentially paid to get back a prospect of value. If the early results are any indication, then Soto certainly does have value. He's made three starts with his new club (the first of which just so happened to come against his old club, West Michigan). In those three starts, he has gone 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA, allowing four runs on six hits with six walks and 20 strikeouts in 18 innings. "He's a young kid, he's got great pitchability, four pretty decent pitches, and he knows how to use them already," Callaway said. "He can just improve from there." Soto, speaking through teammate and interpreter Roberto Perez, said he knows where he can improve. "Two pitches, my curveball and my changeup," he said. "My changeup, I'm trying to keep it low. My curveball, I'm trying to throw for a first-pitch strike." Soto, who also throws a sinking fastball and a cutter, has shown decent control in two professional seasons since getting selected by the Tigers in the 21st round of last year's Draft. He has walked 51 and struck out 133 in 146 1/3 professional innings. Yet Soto doesn't have an overpowering arm, by any stretch of the imagination. His fastball tops out in the upper 80s and more frequently sits in the mid-80s. If he puts on some pounds, he'll put some more weight behind that pitch. But even then, he's going to have to rely on fastball location if he's going to progress up the Minor League ladder and into the big leagues. With that in mind, Soto looks toward a source of inspiration who is quite familiar to Tribe fans. "I admire Cliff Lee," he said, "because he throws the same pitches I do. I love the way he pitches. And he's a lefty, too." Given where the Indians were with Peralta, whose $7 million option for 2011 had no chance of being exercised, it would have been acceptable for the club to just give away the third baseman in order to open up opportunities for other options for next year. But the Indians hope they have landed a projectable rotation option in Soto, who will need to put some meat on his bony frame and keep refining his four-pitch mix if he's going to ascend to the big leagues like Geovany Soto did. "I'm glad to be here with the Indians," Soto said. "I have learned a lot of things. I'm going to learn more because I'm so young."