Soto goes from Rookie of the Year to benched

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Last year Geovany Soto turned in one of the greatest rookie seasons ever from a catcher, hitting .285/.364/.504 with 23 homers, 35 doubles, and 62 walks in 141 games while gunning down 27 percent of steal attempts and helping Cubs pitchers post a 3.80 ERA when he was behind the plate.
He started the All-Star game, received 31 of 32 first-place votes in the Rookie of the Year balloting, and became just the 17th catcher in baseball history with an adjusted OPS+ of at least 120 as a 25-year-old. And now he’s been benched. “I think we’ll catch Koyie Hill a lot more,” manager Lou Piniella said yesterday after the Cubs fell 10 games back in the NL Central. “It’s been a struggle for Soto.”
Piniella is right, because Soto’s sophomore campaign that has definitely been a mess from the start. He suffered a shoulder injury just days into the season, got some bad press in June as a result of testing positive for marijuana during the World Baseball Classic, landed on the disabled list with an oblique injury in July, and has gone 6-for-47 (.128) since coming off the shelf. He’s hitting just .212/.318/.371 in 84 games overall.
On the other hand, while that represents a massive dropoff from his rookie numbers .212/.318/.371 is still significantly better than Hill’s career .215/.290/.311 line and basically equal to Hill’s .245/.329/.347 mark this season. Soto has also done a solid job behind the plate, throwing out 30 percent of steal attempts and pitch-calling his way to a decent 4.16 ERA. In other words, “a struggle for Soto” is more or less Hill at his best.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.