Soto Working to Get Back With Reds

Injuries have left the Reds in need for help in the infield but up until now prospect Neftali Soto’s bat has not enabled him to take ownership of an active roster spot. He has been putting together a solid season at AAA Lousville and looks to vie for a spot once again after roster expansion.

Louisville took a four-run lead after four innings and held on for a 6-5 win over visiting Charlotte Monday to bring their record up to 54-57 on the season. The Bats got on the board early when Neftali Soto doubled home two in the first inning. In the third Felix Perez stroked an RBI double and scored on an error that came off of Soto’s bat. The Knights cut into the lead with a three-run rally the next inning before Thomas Neal added some insurance with an RBI-single in the fifth. Tucker Barnhart plated his team’s final run with a bases-loaded walk in the seventh.

Perez led the home team offensively with three doubles and three runs. Ruben Gotay reached on a couple of singles and a walk and scored three times while Soto and Neal added two hits apiece. On the mound David Holmberg finally got his first win of the season when he turned in a quality start allowing three runs on ten hits in six innings with four strikeouts. Curtis Partch relieved him with a scoreless appearance before heading back to Cincinnati to join the Reds again. Justin Freeman entered in the ninth and was roughed up for a couple of runs, but he got the final out and was rewarded with a save for it.

Soto has been doing a nice job swinging the bat since returning from action with the Reds and he’s now hitting .329 AVG/.369 OB for the Bats this season. He’s been with the parent team for a couple of stints this year which has limited his AAA action to 43 games. He’s only knocked a couple of homers in them, but has enough doubles to lift his slugging percentage up to .365.

In spite of his success he’ll likely remember 2014 as the year injuries gave him ample opportunity to spend a season at the MLB level, but he could not stick. Veteran reserve Jack Hannahan’s long stay on the DL gave him the inside track for the corner infielder reserve job and Joey Votto’s injuries have given a lot of action to others at first base. Unfortunately for Soto in 34 MLB games over the past couple of seasons he’s managed to go only 3-42 at the plate without a walk.

Soto has been a highly visible prospect in the Reds system since he cracked 21 homers at the high-A level in 2010 and came back the next year to pop 30 more against AA competition. He’s been in the organization since they drafted him in the third round in 2007 and now at the age of 25 it’s getting to be time for him to make an impact at the MLB level.

He’s still on the 40-man and will likely get a shot at more action after roster expansion this year. Hopefully his success in AAA will translate into better results when that happens. He’s hit over 100 minor league homers so the potential for some power is there. He hits right-handed and flashes nice leather at first base so he could be a handy man to have around to give Votto an occasional day off in a best case scenario. Instead Votto is on the DL, Soto was unable to take ownership of the job, and reserve catcher Brayan Pena is getting the lion’s share of the action.

However, when stepping back and reviewing Soto’s career he’s still showing progress. He’s made a stop at every level while rising steadily through the system. He didn’t spend much time at low A but made up for it with a second season at the high-A level. This is his third full year with Louisville, and he’s been in the lineup enough to make a strong case that’s he’s now a much better hitter than when he arrived for a cup of coffee at the end of the 2011 season.

There will be plenty of spots on the active roster come September 1 and there’s no telling what Votto’s status will be then or if the Reds will even be in the mix for the post season. Soto is making a statement that he’s mastering the AAA level and there’s nowhere else for him to go. Hannahan’s signing before last year has been a regrettable one for the Reds and a strong performance by Soto over the final month of the season could help to earn him a spot on the opening day roster again next April.

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