Soto Powers Bats

Neftali Soto has gotten attention with his bat since Cincinnati selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft. The 24 year-old returned to AAA to start the season and he's hitting like he's ready for an MLB debut this year. Meanwhile AA outfielder Donald Lutz got the call after the Reds lost Chris Heisey from a pulled hamstring.

Louisville took a two-run lead in the first inning from a Neftali Soto home run and never looked back in a 6-2 home win over Lehigh Valley Monday. The Bats added on the next inning with a solo homer by Kristopher Negron. Soto struck again when he led off the third with a hit and later scored on a Felix Perez double. The Bats capped off their scoring in the seventh which included a double by Billy Hamilton who later stole third and scored when a teammate was picked off first. Hamilton now has fifteen swipes in 23 games.

Soto led the offense by going 4-4 while Perez added a couple of hits. Josh Fellhauer reached safely in both his plate appearances via a hit and walk and scored once. On the mound Daniel Corcino had his best outing of the season and picked up the win after allowing one run on six hits in six innings while striking out five with only one walk. Kevin Whelan finished the contest with two scoreless innings of relief that lowered his ERA to 0.93 after ten appearances.

Soto has been swinging a hot bat since coming off a brief stint on the DL to start this season and raised his average to .313/.353 OB% last night. He also has a couple of homers and has found gaps enough to push his slugging percentage up to .484. He's been a steady climber in the Cincinnati organization since they drafted him out of Puerto Rico in the third round in 2007. The Reds got some compensation picks that year and Soto was actually the sixth player they selected. Five of them are still standing in their organization.

Soto has always flashed good power in the minor leagues and crashed the party as one of the franchise's highest rated hitting prospects after pounding thirty homers at Pensacola two seasons ago despite missing a month with a wrist injury. He started slowly at Louisville last season before finishing stronger to raise his final average to .245. Now at the age of 24 he appears to be back on track and ready for MLB action as early as this season.

One improvement Soto has made over the years is improving his swing where he's less "pull-happy" and increased his ability to drive the ball over the opposite field fence. He's also needed to work on plate discipline, but he's gotten his walk rate up to 7.6% since arriving in AAA and striking out slightly more than once per five plate appearances, which isn't bad for a power hitter.

Another big question hanging over his head is his defensive position. He was actually drafted as a shortstop with a lot of doubt that he could stick at the position. He didn't and the next stop was at third base where he failed to field at the .900 level and concerns about retaining mobility as has body filled out prompted another move. He even tried catching for a handful of games before finally settling in at first base.

Of course the Reds dance card is filled at that position over the next several seasons. Soto has a strong arm so perhaps right field may be an option in the future. Right now he's on the Reds 40-man roster and going down a road that will likely give him a MLB debut later this season. Depending on the Reds situation in the pennant race he could be a right-handed option to pinch hit and spell Joey Votto at first after roster expansion.

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The Reds took the first game of a series at St. Louis with a 2-1 win that now has them one half game behind division leader Pittsburgh. Mat Latos turned in another strong outing and got the win by throwing six shutout innings to lower his ERA under two. It was a rare appearance where Aroldis Chapman didn't strike out anyone, but he did retire the Cardinals in order in the ninth inning for the save. The Reds got on the board early when from a leadoff double by Shin-soo Choo and RBI single by Votto. They added on in the fourth when a double by Todd Frazier set up an RBI-groundout by Xavier Paul. Votto had two of the Reds' six hits while Brandon Phillips walked and led off the run-producing fourth inning with a single.

The injury bug has been no stranger to the Reds this season and its latest victim is Chris Heisey who went on the 15-day DL after pulling a hamstring. They reached all the way down to AA to replace him with Donald Lutz who got some attention earlier this year after impressing at spring training. Since then he's started off the season close to .200 in AA which normally would not make him a candidate for a jump to the MLB level, but he does have four homers and the only other outfielder left on the 40-man roster is 20 year-old Yorman Rodriguez who started the season in single A. The Reds now have six players on the DL.

After a couple of rainouts Pensacola finally got back into action at Tennessee by splitting a double header where both teams won 3-0. The Wahoos shut out the Smokies in the first game behind five strong innings from Josh Smith who got the win after allowing only two hits and a couple of walks with four strikeouts in five innings pitched. Lee Hyde and Drew Hayes both tossed a scoreless inning with Hayes getting the save. The fish scored one run in each of the first three innings including a Brodie Greene home run in the second. Devin Lohman led off the first and third innings with doubles and scored both times off singles from the next hitter, Ryan LaMarre. Those three accounted for five of the Pensacola hits on the game.

The Blue Wahoos flirted with another shutout in the second game before losing when Tennessee broke a tie with three runs in the seventh and final inning. Tim Crabbe got not decision from five scoreless innings that yielded only three hits without a walk. Josh Ravin tossed a scoreless frame before Wilken De La Rosa gave up a walk-off home runs and took the loss. The Pensacola offense had only three players reach safely via one hit, a walk and error. Third baseman David Vidal was ejected in the third from arguing with the home plate umpire.

Bakersfield had an off-day and will resume their schedule at San Jose on Tuesday.

Dayton scored three each in the second and third innings and held on for a 6-5 win over visiting Burlington. The Dragons got on the board first from a two-run home run by Tanner Rahier. Jesse Winker broke a 3-3 tie the next inning with another two-run homer. Jeff Gelalich had two hits in the game while Rahier and Humberto Valor both reached via a hit and walk, including an bases-loaded ball four to Valor. Drew Cisco allowed four runs in seven innings from six hits with no walks which was good enough for the win. Ben Klimesh entered in the ninth and retired two batters for the save.

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