Soto Salvaging Season at Louisville

Neftali Soto had a breakout minor league season last year when he tied a Southern League record with 30 home runs. This year a slow start combined with a back injury has caused a significant decrease of productivity at the AAA level. Recently he's gone 13-34 over his last nine games and is starting to get his season back on track.

Louisville fell behind by three at home to Toledo and fell short in their comeback attempt in a 4-3 loss. Neftali Soto had two of the Bats eight hits. Didi Gregorius had a triple and drove in two. On the mound Sean Gallagher took the loss while turning in a quality start. He gave up three runs in six innings despite allowing six hits and issuing seven walks. Nick Christiani allowed one hit in 1+ innings of relief to lower his ERA to 3.20.

After a slow start this year Soto has gone 13-34 (.382) over his last nine games to raise his average to a more respectable .240. He entered this season a consensus top 15 prospect in the Cincinnati system based upon a strong 2011 at Carolina. He became the top rated first base prospect in the Reds system after the offseason trade of Yonder Alonso.

Soto was a third round selection out of Colegio Marista (PR) in 2007. He started playing in the Arizona League as an eighteen year old that fall and hit .300 in 40 games. He began the next season at Billings and was quickly promoted after hitting .388 in 15 games. While at Dayton he continued to keep a gaudy average of .326 in over 200 AB. It was in 2008 when power entered into his game and he slugged .558 overall with eleven home runs. In 2009 his average fell to .248 at high-A so he repeated it the next season and hit .268 while breaking through the 20 HR level. Last season was a breakout year at AA when he tied the Southern League home run record with 30 despite missing a month with a broken wrist. That earned him a brief but potent appearance at Louisville at the end of the season.

This year the going hasn't been as easy for Soto at the highest minor league level. He began this season slowly before doing a stint on the DL with back spasms in June. His current .240 average is the highest level he's reached. His power outage had been reduced too but his 13HR/53RBI does lead the Bats. His average is on the rise and there is still time for him to finish closer to a level expected of him before the season began.

Soto is listed at 6'2"/200# and bats/throws right-handed. He was originally drafted as a third baseman but has a fielding pct. below .900 at the hot corner in 148 minor league games. The Reds originally tried him out at shortstop in the Gulf Coast League and he's also donned catcher's gear in ten games. He has a good arm even if it doesn't get used much at first where he has an excellent fielding percentage of .991. Unfortunately for Soto, with the Joey Votto extension this past spring the only chance any Reds first base prospect will have to get much MLB action is either by changing positions or organizations.

One item on his agenda for development this year was improved plate discipline. In the prior five minor league seasons he drew walks in only 5.1% of 2,000 plate appearances. That has gained significant increase to 8.1% in 2012. Another improvement has been his ability to hit with power to all fields and ten of his 31 HR last year were opposite field shots. His strikeout rate was okay for a power hitter when he fanned once every 5.3 PA on average. That has digressed against higher level pitching this season and he's whiffed 101 times out of the 421 turns in the batter's box.

At 23 years old the only hitters on the Bats roster younger than Soto are a couple that were promoted from Pensacola around midseason. He has sufficient power projections for a first baseman. Right now his main value with the Reds is either providing minor league depth or trade value. That deal worked out well for Alonso because there's no way he would have over 400 MLB plate appearances this season had he continued to be blocked by Votto. It's working out okay for the Reds too because Mat Latos has lowered his ERA under for while notching ten wins. Value is value and the Reds and Soto both benefit when he gets back on track and proves himself against AAA pitching.

Other News from the Farm:

Pensacola won at home over Chattanooga 3-2 in ten innings. Bryson Smith had three hits for the Wahoos while Billy Hamilton added two more with a triple and a walk. Tony Cingrani got no decision from holding the Lookouts to one run on four hits and striking out six in six innings. Wilken De La Rosa and Curtis Parch combined for three innings of scoreless relief with Parch finishing the game and getting the win.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

As could be expected, when Hamilton gets on base more frequently his stolen base count increases faster. He reached base three times last night and stole two. He led off the first with a walk and swiped second before he was caught attempting to steal third. He led off the fifth with a triple and scored on a groundout. In the seventh he had a bunt single to set up another steal of second. He now has 133 steals in 161 attempts over 110 games.

Bakersfield got blown out at home 14-4 by Visalia. Juan Duran had two of the five Blaze hits including a home run. Tanner Robles had his shortest start as a Blaze and allowed four (three earned) on five hits before he was lifted in the second.

Dayton was rained out at Lansing and will make it up with a doubleheader Friday.

Billings won a 6-0 shutout at Great Falls. Zachary Vincej had three hits and drove in two. Carlos Sanchez added two hits and an RBI. Sal Romano got the win by tossing five scoreless innings with two hits while striking out four and walking three. Nick Routt, Jordan Remer, and Erik Miller combined for four scoreless innings of relief.

The AZL Reds were shut out at home in a 3-0 loss to the AZL Padres. Brayan Arias had two of the four Reds hits. Pedro Diaz allowed only one run in four innings, but that was enough to hang a loss on him.

The DSL Reds cruised to an 8-0 win at the DSL White Sox. Aristides Aquino was 3-3 with two walks and two RBI. Kevin Garcia also had three hits including a couple of triples. Eury Cantilazo got no decision despite dominating the first four innings. He allowed no base runners while striking out eight. Ramon Sarrameda relieved him with four scoreless innings and got the win.

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