Clean-up hitter? Soriano ready to produce

Alfonso Soriano has tried to be a mentor to young teammate Starlin Castro. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

MESA, Ariz. -- There seems to be a renewed vigor in Alfonso Soriano this spring that could translate to production on the field and even a chance to hit from the cleanup spot.

At this point nobody will believe that Soriano can turn himself back into the player who earned an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs before the 2007 season. Soriano would have to turn into Babe Ruth over the final three years of the deal for people to think the contract was worth it. And even that might not be enough.

But take away all the analysis of how much run production bang the Cubs are getting for their buck and a decent run producer could be in their midst. Soriano's 88 RBIs last year were his most in a season since joining the Cubs.

But it's not all about his numbers.

Embracing his role as a mentor to Starlin Castro, Soriano knows he has a chance to make a positive influence on a budding superstar. He has lent Castro moral support as he faces an allegation of sexual assault and he has tried to lead by example on the field as well.

Soriano said that he and Castro committed themselves to a six-week workout program in their native Dominican Republic this winter and it could help both players to hit their stride early in the season.

“I'm feeling good,” Soriano said. “I have been practicing very hard in the Dominican and I will try to stay healthy the whole spring training and in the season too to see what happens.”

New manager Dale Sveum seems intrigued. He wants to give Bryan LaHair a chance to take over the cleanup role but hasn't ruled out putting Soriano there, a sign that he thinks his veteran still has some quality production left in him.

Soriano seemed flattered to hear that his new manager still believes. He spent most of his time last season in the seventh spot (221 plate appearances) and the sixth spot (186 PA). He did not bat cleanup and has batted there just 15 games in his career, second least to the No. 2 spot (13 times).

“Wow,” Soriano said upon hearing Sveum's cleanup plan. “I'm ready for anything. I don't want to put pressure on myself. I want to stay healthy and do my job. If he put me batting fourth it's the same as batting seventh. I batted seventh last year. The goal is to stay healthy. That's my goal.”

Never mind that Sveum's plan might be influenced by a desire to protect LaHair from the pressures of the spot more than the idea that Soriano has earned it. But it seemed to put a spring in Soriano's step nonetheless and that might be part of Sveum's plan as well.

Batting cleanup could lead to more run production, but Soriano knows he won't get out of the fans' doghouse until he can perform and the team can win.

Soriano has taken note of all the boos, the latest coming in January during the annual Cubs Convention. He was neither surprised nor upset about it.

“Not really, not really,” he said. “They're fine when you're going well but when you're doing bad, they don't support nobody. [We'll] see what happens this year. I just came here to work and not even think about the fans, just think about my job and what I can do in the field.”

Fans seem to prefer that he be traded, but Soriano still has designs on finishing what he came to do in Chicago.

“I love this organization,” he said. “I signed here to make this team better and win. I think we have a chance to win and that's my goal. I just want to stay here to see this team win one championship. That's what I'm here for and I want to do my best to do it.”