Longoria, Soto win AL, NL top rookie awards

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was named American League rookie of the year Monday, while Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto took National League honours.
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria led all American League rookies in home runs (27) and runs batted in (85) while averaging .272 in 448 at-bats. ((Chris O'Meara/Associated Press))
One was Mr. Everything for one of the American League's most exciting young offences. The other was the unsung hero of the second-best pitching staff in the National League.

Together, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria and Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto made their presence known early in their first tastes of the major leagues in 2008.

On Monday, they were recogzined for their achievements as recipients of the AL and NL awards for rookie of the year, respectively.

Longoria received all 28 first-place votes, becoming the AL's first unanimous rookie winner since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.

He accomplished plenty in his first 122 games in the majors: participating in the all-star game and home run derby, and winning league rookie of the month honours in June.

The 23-year-old also provided Gold Glove-calibre defence at the hot corner and went on to hit home runs in his first two playoff at-bats. He went deep six times in 16 post-season contests for the AL champion Rays.

But it was his performance in the regular season that got him the top freshman nod Monday.

Longoria led all AL rookies in home runs (27) and runs batted in (85) while averaging .272 in 448 at-bats.

Not bad for a player who started the season at triple-A Durham, despite topping all Tampa Bay players in homers, RBIs and walks at spring training. He made his Rays regular-season debut on April 12.

After signing a six-year, $17.5-million US contract just 20 at-bats into his big-league life, the native of Downey, Calif., secured the 32nd and final spot on the AL all-star team after drawing a record nine million online votes.

Chicago White Sox second baseman Alexei Ramirez was the runner-up in Monday's voting after receiving 18 second-place votes. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury finished third.

In good rookie company

Soto got 31 of 32 first-place votes, with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto of Toronto earning the other.

The previous winner from the Cubs was closer Kerry Wood 10 years ago.

"He was definitely one of the best catchers in the National League, if not the game. I felt like finishing second to him is nothing to sneeze at," Votto told CBCSports.ca by phone from his off-season home in Florida.

Soto, the first NL catcher to capture top rookie honours since Mike Piazza 15 years ago, experienced an equally eventful season.

This past July, the 25-year-old became the first NL catcher to start an all-star game and the first Cubs backstop to start a Midsummer Classic in 71 years.

The native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, didn't require much time to get acquainted with major- league pitching as he clubbed five home runs and drove in 20 in 23 April games. 
Geovany Soto of the Cubs is the first NL catcher in 15 years to win the rookie of the year award. ((Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images))

Soto remained consistent through the remainder of the campaign, finishing with 23 homers and 86 RBIs to go with a .285 batting average in 141 games. The 23 dingers set a franchise mark for a rookie backstop and were the most by any rookie catcher since Piazza belted 35 in 1993.

"Definitely on the offensive end, he was one of the best hitters on the Chicago Cubs, and they were a first-place club. That says a lot about how good a year he had," said Votto.

Soto led all NL rookies in RBIs, doubles (35) and extra-base hits (60), while his defence and handling of the Cubs' pitching staff (4.40 team earned-run average) were good enough to help Chicago win a second straight NL Central Division crown.

Soto 'keeps hitter guessing'

When right-handed starter Rich Harden arrived in a July 8 trade from Oakland, he was concerned about coming to a new team and working with a new catcher.

But the Victoria native was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he and Soto were on the same page in his first start for the Cubs on July 12 against San Francisco.

"Within the first game, he had an idea of what I liked to do and what my strengths were," Harden told CBCSports.ca in September. "I rarely have to shake [him off]. He puts down a sign and I have full confidence in him."

Working for two seasons in Oakland with veteran Jason Kendall, Harden found the latter understood hitters, what they might be looking for and how to pitch them.

As for Soto, Harden said his battery mate is good at realizing when hitters are looking for certain pitches and pitching against what they're expecting.

"He really mixes it up and keeps hitters guessing," said Harden, who fashioned a 5-1 record and 1.77 ERA in 12 starts with Chicago. "For a rookie, he's really relaxed and confident, and I find that wears off on me as a pitcher. You don't want somebody that's nervous back there [behind the plate]."

Votto came in second with 21 second-place votes and 76 points to Soto's 158.