Top 30 Reds Prospects: No. 9

Soto Expected to Step Up in 2nd IL Season

Neftali Soto brings power in his bat that has lifted him through the Cincinnati system since they drafted him in 2007. He started out slowly at Louisville in 2012 before improving production in the second half and should have a big season on tap for his second year in the International League.

The Reds drafted Neftali Soto out of Puerto Rico in the third round in 2007 and he's consistently moved up the organization since he was eighteen years old. There were high expectations for him in Louisville last year coming off a monster season at Carolina where he popped 30 home runs. Instead he got off to a slow start, including a stint on the DL with back spasms, and didn't really come around until the second half. He finished at .245/.313 OB%, was second on the team with fourteen homers, and drove in a team high 59 RBI.

Soto will turn 24 on the last day of this month and should be ready to step up production in his second season in the International League. He could stand to improve plate discipline to cut down on strikeouts (22% of PA), but there's reason to believe he's making strides. As he's advanced up the ladder he's been able to consistently improve his walk frequency against more advanced levels, up to 8% of PA in 2012.

Unfortunately his future in the field isn't as promising in Cincinnati as it is at the plate. Originally drafted as a third baseman, those plans were scrapped after he failed to field .900 over his first three seasons in the lower levels. Now it appears he's limited to first base where he brings a nice glove, but the Reds already have plans for that position for the next ten years. Unless he can move elsewhere, possibly left field, his future in the organization appears limited to a right-handed backup to Joey Votto and replacement in case of an injury the Reds hope never happens. Unfortunately the makeup of the modern day roster normally has room for only two reserve infielders and needs versatility from both of them. Should Soto be able to handle both corners he would improve his chances, but the Reds have seen fit to play him at third only once since he left single A. They probably did not anticipate he'd be limited defensively because they started him off at shortstop in the Arizona League and later tried him behind the plate for ten games.

Still, improvement to Soto is an asset to the Reds. There's no denying the potential for power and his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field is especially impressive. It wasn't long ago when the Reds gave up on converting Yonder Alonso into a left fielder. Though his contribution for the Reds at the MLB level was minimal he was an important part in bringing in Mat Latos who had a huge impact on their rotation in 2012.

Even though trade speculations loom apparent, it's not a done deal. The first item on Soto's agenda is to increase value with improved performance against AAA pitching. If he does that his contribution at the MLB level could come as early as this season after roster expansion. Should they start giving him outfield action in the future then there's no secret that the Reds have notions of him becoming a run producer in the middle of their lineup. For now the Cincinnati front office should be very excited about what's in store in 2013 for Soto with the Bats. A legitimate home run threat will find a job somewhere and if he progresses as expected it will strengthen their organization somewhere, whether in the form of Neftali Soto or a trade return.

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Neftali Soto has gotten attention with his bat since Cincinnati selected him in the third round of…

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