MESA, Ariz. -- After every game, Alfonso Soriano asks who is pitching the next day. That way, he can take time the night before to visualize that pitcher's approach.
"I have to prepare myself, and if I do, I have a better chance," Soriano said.
Visualization is something Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has been preaching since he joined the team in 2010, but it's a technique Soriano said he's used his entire career.
"I close my eyes -- sometimes I don't have to close my eyes -- but I think about what I want to do, what pitch he wants to throw," Soriano said Friday. "I think about what he wants to do, situations. [Thursday], I had one at-bat and he threw me [a] fastball strike, second pitch fastball away strike, and the third one in and the last one in, too. That helped me in my second at-bat.
"When we play this game, we have to think about the game, and nothing else," he said. "In the offseason, we have plenty of time to think about something else."
Staying focused is a key element in Jaramillo's plan. He tells hitters to go home and visualize their swings every night.
"Last year, I think it started to kick in and [team psychologist] Marc Strickland has done a good job explaining what it means and how to go about it, and it's something we'll continue with," Jaramillo said. "That's usually something that gets you back on track and keeps you focused. Preparation is a big part of anything."
How long do they need to think about Roy Halladay or Yovani Gallardo or Chris Carpenter? Five minutes? Ten?
"They can go as long as they want because it'll help your concentration span the longer you can slow everything down," Jaramillo said. "You can see the pitcher's motion, see it come out of his hand, swing at a good pitch, inside, or wherever your strength is, middle in, middle out, middle of the plate. You have to practice that so you get good results."
Jaramillo, a tireless worker who is in the cages every day shortly after sunrise, gave an update on some of the Cubs' hitters this spring.
Bryan LaHair: "Bryan's fine," Jaramillo said of the first baseman, who is 6 for 25 (.240) this spring. "It's just a matter of timing and him getting more at-bats. We're only about halfway through [Spring Training]. I have a lot of confidence in the young man. He works hard, he's real coachable. He'll be fine."
LaHair has a long swing. Does that require more time?
"He's making some adjustments," Jaramillo said. "Sometimes they have to quit overthinking and simplify it and get a good pitch and get in good hitting position and not try to overanalyze things. That's what happens sometimes when you get a little off. He'll get it back. He's a smart kid and works hard and he knows his swing. He has to keep getting good timing to make good decisions and get a good pitch."
Alfonso Soriano: Soriano is not using the same high leg kick in his stance as in years past. Last spring, he hit three homers in 21 games. He has four so far in seven games.
"It's something he's been working on for the last couple years and we've talked about it and not to lift it so high," Jaramillo said. "The main thing with him is he's real confident and it's slowing the game down mentally and trusting himself and making good decisions and looking for a good pitch to hit. He's simplifying everything, working off the fastball. He's getting in good hitting positions, which allows him good recognition."
By lowering the kick, Soriano doesn't have as many factors to think about timing-wise. Seeing results has helped, too.
"It's a new year," Jaramillo said. "That tells you how confident he is, and he feels free mentally and that's a big part of anybody, just believing in himself."
Starlin Castro: Castro led the National League in hits last season and pitchers will be trying new tricks to get him out.
"I'm making him aware that he's had two really good seasons and he's still learning how to be a better hitter," Jaramillo said. "He went from three home runs to 10 home runs. You don't want him thinking about power. He has to make good decisions.
"He has to learn more about what pitchers are trying to do to him when he gets ahead in the count. They'll pitch him backwards and try to throw sliders down and away on him. We have to make sure he gets the ball up and makes good decisions and trusts himself and doesn't make up his mind to swing because he's ahead in the count. He has to keep the same approach that got him to 3-1 [in the count]. That's what he has to trust and get better at. He's a good one, no doubt about it."
Ian Stewart: Stewart is coming off an injury-filled season in which he hit .156 for the Rockies. He's 5-for-15 so far this spring.
"He and I have been working together and trying to get him to trust me -- and he is," Jaramillo said. "He's gaining confidence and he's learning and he's visualizing and says he really likes it. Once you see good things happen you reprogram yourself mentally, and that's what we're trying to get him to do. He's doing that well and his swing is getting better. He's got great hand speed."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.