Monday, January 21, 2013

Highlighting top Reds prospects in 2013: Neftali Soto

by: Jon Davis
Staff Writer

#15  Neftali Soto  1B

At No. 15, we find Neftali Soto. Soto is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound first baseman, who was drafted by the Reds in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Puerto Rico. In 2011, he led the Double-A Southern League with 30 homers, despite missing a month with a broken bone in his left wrist.  In 2012, in a full year at Triple A he struggled, hitting .245 with a .313 on base and a .400 slugging to go along with his 14 homers. The only improvement Soto made at the plate was that the one area he most needed to work on, plate discipline. In 2012, his walk rate went up to 8 percent while his strikeout rate went down to 22.7 percent. He will still need to make some strides in this department, but '12 seemed like a step in the right direction.

Soto's value comes almost exclusively from his bat, as he is a below-average runner and an average defender at best. Despite being drafted as a shortstop, his defense (or lack thereof) has made him a first baseman. As a shortstop, he had a fielding percentage of just .910, and after moving to the hot corner, only managed a .895 fielding percentage. In an order to give some perspective to those numbers, Edwin Encarnacion's career fielding percentage at third base is .934.  In his time at first base, his fielding percentage is .992, which shows some promise that he could be an average defensive first baseman in the majors. He has a strong arm, though it doesn't get much use at first base. At the plate, he has legitimate plus-plus raw power and has shown good ability in game power. Despite his aggressive and long swing, he does manage to make consistent, hard contact often. While he did improve his strikeout and walk rates in 2012, he is still very aggressive at the plate, that has led to and will continue to lead to him struggling. He needs to bring his strikeout-to-walk ratio down if he is going to reach his potential. Overall, he has the tools to become an every day first baseman with plus power, but he needs more time in the minor leagues to work on being more selective at the plate.

He is on the 40-man roster, which automatically means that we could see him in Cincinnati this year if the need arises. I am sure he will start the year in Louisville and ideally would stay there for the year to work on his plate discipline. This would also allow the Reds time to figure out what they are going to do with him. A big year could make him a valuable trade chip at the deadline, seeing as the Reds have first base locked up for the foreseeable future (Joey Votto).

There is one other thought I had that may seem odd, but hear me out. Given the recent changes leading to interleague play all year round, with 15 teams in both leagues, it may only be a matter of time before the National League goes with the designated hitter. You know, since there should be balance across baseball and it looks like this DH thing isn't going anywhere. With that in mind, Soto, with his mediocre defense at best and his high profile bat would make for an ideal designated hitter.

A look back on the previous prospect posts...
No. 1 - Billy Hamilton
No. 2 - Robert Stephenson
No. 3 - Tony Cingrani
No. 4 - Daniel Corcino
No. 5 - Nick Travieso
No. 6 - Jesse Winker
No. 7 - Tanner Rahier
No. 8 - Kyle Lotzkar
No. 9 - Yorman Rodriguez
No. 10 - Ismael Guillon
No.  11 - Ryan LaMarre
No. 12 - Amir Garrett
No. 13 - Dan Langfield
No. 14 - David Vidal

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