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Geovany Soto (right) with top White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada this spring. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Veteran catcher Soto eager to take on role of mentor to young Sox

SHARE Veteran catcher Soto eager to take on role of mentor to young Sox
SHARE Veteran catcher Soto eager to take on role of mentor to young Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Geovany Soto still remembers walking into the Cubs’ spring-training clubhouse for the first time. It was 2004. The catcher from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was 21.

“I was so starstruck,” he said. “I go in, and there’s Greg Maddux, there’s Sammy Sosa, there’s Moises Alou. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Kerry Wood was one of the big ones, too. It was a dream come true when I first stepped in.”

Soto was a September call-up in 2007 and went on to start in the playoffs against the Diamondbacks. A year later came his breakout as National League Rookie of the Year.

Eventually, though, his star fizzled. Soto is on his fourth big-league team and beginning his second stint with the White Sox since being traded by the Cubs during the 2012 season.

Soto made his first spring start in nearly a week Monday afternoon against the Padres. He sprung out from behind the plate to field a dribbler and nail leadoff hitter Erick Aybar at first. He drove a line shot to the wall in left-center, missing a home run by a few feet.

In short, he looked good. And he’s hoping to play far more frequently once the regular season begins.

“I feel like I could play 140, 150 games,” he said. “I want to be in there as much as I can.”

Soto’s career high for games played, 141, came in 2008. He hasn’t caught 100 games since 2011. At 34, he isn’t about to be a full-time catcher for the Sox. And he knows this. He’s cool with it, too.

“I’m here for whatever they want me to do,” he said. “I’m a team player. I love baseball and will do whatever the job requires.”

A major part of it will be helping to guide young catcher Omar Narvaez, who will be used extensively this season, as well as the team’s other young players. Soto and Narvaez could split time close to equally.

Soto took note of how instrumental Cubs catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero were in leading a run to the World Series, even though neither veteran was the team’s primary catcher. The Sox don’t figure to be that good for quite a while, but Soto is keen on using his experience for the common good as the team comes along.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I have a lot of experience, have been on some great teams and some not so great, but every year’s a learning experience, good or bad. I’m always paying attention, always trying to give that knowledge back to younger kids. I really take pride in being that mentor, the guy you can come up to and ask me anything, and I’ll give you the answer. And if I don’t know it, I’ll get it for you.”

Narvaez got a tap on the shoulder from Soto on the first day both were in camp.

“He said, ‘Let me know what I can do for you,’ ” Narvaez said. “He has been pretty helpful to me, very good to me. I appreciate that. He’s a really nice guy. We can talk to him anytime. He knows how to handle the little kids like me.”

Narvaez laughed at his use of “little kids,” adding: “You know what I mean. We’re a family.’’

Manager Rick Renteria said he’s still about a week away from determining how he plans to use Soto to start the season and how many catchers the team will break camp with. Two would be a fine number, as Soto sees it.

“I love baseball,” he said. “I love what I do. I work hard to be here. I love to be a great teammate. I love everything about baseball.”

Especially playing it, even after all these years.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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