Based on the way he played, the award was almost a foregone conclusion, and there it is: Geovany Soto, Cubs catcher, is the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year. Good on 'ya, Geovany.
In 2007, the Cubs catcher was named Jason Kendall. Jason Kendall seems like a nice enough fellow, and at one point in his career was quite good at baseball. Unfortunately, last year was not that point. Kendall hit .242/.301/.309 last year. If he wasn't barely flicking soft-hit grounders through porous defenses, he wasn't hitting anything at all. It was ugly.
Along came Soto, who in 54 at-bats in 2007 hit .389/.433/.667. Sure, it was a product of small sample size, but it was also the sudden promise of a player the Cubs, having taken Soto in the 11th round of the 2001 draft, probably didn't realize they even had. Soto wasn't supposed to be the second coming of Mike Piazza; he was supposed to be a backup catcher, maybe a league-level starter, with a good bat and some decent defensive chops.
Soto is so much more. In 2008, over a full season, he hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 home runs, great offensive numbers for a catcher. In comparison to his predecessor Kendall, Soto didn't have to rely on the nebulous qualities of "experience" and "he just knows the game." The rookie never looked overwhelmed or out of place, and what's more, pitchers on the staff apparently think he handles them pretty well:
"For a young catcher, he handles pitchers as well as anybody I've been around," Chicago pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
"I was surprised when I came over here and first had a chance to work with him," Chicago pitcher Rich Harden said of the young catcher. "For a rookie, he's got a very good idea back there. It's not just handling the pitching staff and calling pitches, but at the plate, he's done some amazing things."
All of this isn't meant to disparage Kendall, of course, but to praise Soto. He came out of nowhere, and the Cubs are in a much better place because of it.