Emerging from the clubhouse at Principal Park in Des Moines, IA, a slight look of surprise was detected on the face of Elliot Soto. Not that Soto didn’t deserve the attention, but on a roster that contained major league players such as Jeimer Candelario and Tommy LaStella, along with prospects such as Victor Caratini, Chesny Young and Mark Zagunis, you may not anticipate it. But Soto has a unique perspective of the rise of the Cubs’ system, both as a participant and as a fan.
The Cubs selected Elliot Soto in the fifteenth round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Creighton University. Soto had grown up in Carpentersville, a northwest suburb of Chicago as a Cubs fan. “Even though I wasn’t a part of the organization last year, I was pulling for them (to win the World Series) as a lifelong fan” said Soto. “I was in shock when it happened. It gave me goose bumps!”
Soto played his first full season of professional baseball in 2011 and established himself as a great glove-man, fielding .974 in 59 games at shortstop for Low-A Peoria, as well as playing second and third base. At the beginning of August, Soto got the call to assist Advanced-A Daytona in their quest of the Florida State League playoffs. The D-Cubs squad had future major leaguers in Justin Bour, Ryan Buchter, and Matt Szczur. Soto was able to shore-up the team’s defense and batted .450 in the playoffs as Daytona defeated the St. Lucie Mets for the championship.
While Soto would continue to put up stellar defensive numbers the next two seasons, his struggles at the plate had him bouncing between Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. A .190 batting average to start the 2013 season would put Soto back in Daytona, and set up another improbable twist in his career.
The 2013 Daytona Cubs may have finished third in the first half with a 35-31 record, but that did not tell the whole story for that part of the season. There was a bat-swinging incident with outfielder Jorge Soler early on, and manager Dave Kellar had to pull infielder Javier Baez in the middle of a game for lack of hustle, a bad attitude, and overall poor play. The locker room had a very tense atmosphere that did not ease until Soler went on the disabled list and Baez was promoted.
Soto joined the D-Cubs in the second half and became part of an experiment that can now be seen in use by the parent club. Manager Kellar decided to use a mix-and-match approach in the second half, with Soto and players like Ben Carhart, Pin-Chieh Chen, Wes Darvill, Zeke DeVoss, Dustin Geiger, and Bijan Rademacher moving from position to position, and in-and-out of the line-up. With less tension and a new approach, Daytona won nine of its first 13 games to start the second half. Help would also come from the front off for the pitching staff, as the Cubs acquired pitchers Corey Black, Carl Edwards, and Ivan Pineyro while pitcher Pierce Johnson came back from the disabled list.
“Yeah, that was an unbelievable team in 2013” Soto would recall. “We had great pitching, and getting Bryant and Vogelbach sure helped!” Indeed, the August promotions of third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Dan Vogelbach were a difference maker, as Daytona would lose only five games in the month on their way to a 40-20 record. For his part Soto batted .244 in 39 games and fielded an amazing .987 in 37 games at shortstop. The D-Cubs would then go on to record four shut-outs in seven postseason games for another Florida State League championship.
The 2014 season would be bittersweet for Soto, as he had to serve a 50 game suspension for a “drug of abuse”. Putting that behind him, Soto went on to hit .246 in 40 games for Tennessee and earn his first promotion to Triple-A, where he fielded an unheard of .992 in 29 games at shortstop for the Iowa Cubs.
But 2015 became a pivotal year for Soto. Experience and a new, wider batting stance had given Soto his first real success at the plate in his career. Soto batted .275 in 88 games for Tennessee while fielding .983 at shortstop. However, the success had an unexpected consequence. With the parent club in need of pitching help, Soto was dealt along with pitcher Pineyro to Miami for veteran pitcher Dan Haren. Soto finished the year with the Marlins’ Double-A team in Jacksonville, and Miami was impressed enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League.
“The fall league was a great experience” said Soto. “It allowed me to reconnect with my old teammates.” Soto would play on the Mesa team alongside the familiar faces of Black, Candelario, Willson Contreras, Johnson, Mark Zagunis, and Rob Zastryzny. In battling future major leaguers Chad Pinder and Daniel Robertson for plying time, Soto hit .227 and fielded .962 at short.
Although Soto began the 2016 with Triple-A New Orleans, playing time became more difficult to find with veteran Robert Andino and prospect Austin Nola. Soto spent most of his time at second base while hitting .241 in 62 games before landing on the disabled list for the rest of the season in June. After the season was over, the Marlins released Soto. Soto was later re-signed by the Cubs this past spring.
Though Soto has had his ups and downs as a pro, he still maintains a positive attitude as he pursues his major league dream. “I need to continue to work on my offense” said Soto. “I have to keep hitting and do the little things, and never take a play off.” For the 27 year old, time may be growing short, but at least his play in the field and his faith have yet to wavier.
Tags: Austin Nola, Ben Carhart, Bijan Rademacher, Carl Edwards Jr., Chad Pinder, Chesny Young, Corey Black, Dan Haren, Dan Vogelbach, Daniel Robertson, Dave Kellar, Dustin Geiger, Elliot Soto, Ivan Pineyro, Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario, Jorge Soler, Justin Bour, Kris Bryant, Mark Zagunis, Matt Sczcur, Pierce Johnson, Pin-Chieh Chen, Rob Zastryzny, Robert Andino, Ryan Buchter, Tom U, Tommy La Stella, Victor Caratini, Wes Darvill, Willson Contreras, Zeke DeVoss