Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 Top Prospect List: #2 Neftali Soto, inf

Neftali Soto
Height 6-2, Weight 180, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/28/1989
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #11

While the Reds graduated their impact prospects in 2008, a few players climbed the list to fill the void. Neftali Soto is quickly emerging as part of the next wave of impact bats in the system. He has the potential to be an impressive middle-of-the-order hitter at the Major League level. He has a sweet righthanded swing, which makes him somewhat unique in a farm system that seems to produce only lefthanded impact hitters.

The Reds may have graduated Jay Bruce and Joey Votto in 2008, but Soto is proving that the Reds farm system is not without promise on the offensive side.


Soto didn't make his 2008 debut until June, when he started off the season at the rookie Pioneer League with the Billings Mustangs. For the Mustangs, Soto wasted little time in ripping the ball all over the state of Montana. In 67 ABs, Soto posted a slash line of .388/.423/.746/1.169 with 10 doubles, 4 homers, and a 10/4 K/BB ratio. His performance included a .415 BABIP and impressive 22% line drive rate. As Soto continued to hit balls off the Beartooth Mountains, the Reds made the obvious choice to promote him to low-A Dayton.

At Dayton, Soto continued his strong offensive performance, posting a .324/.342/.500/.842 in 216 ABs. He also hit 7 homeruns with a 36/7 K/BB ratio. His line drive rate declined to 15%. While low-A pitchers did a better job against Soto, his level of performance as a 19-year old was still quite impressive.

The obvious drawback in Soto's hitting approach is his lack of walks. While I tend to come down on the side of plate discipline being an inborn tool rather than a learned skill, Soto is still young enough that his current walk rate may not be reflective of his true ability to control the strike zone. In addition, as he continues to build a reputation for being a fierce power hitter, pitchers will work him more carefully and he'll likely receive more walks as a result. Another potential mitigating factor for his poor walk rate is that Soto has fairly low strikeout rate. While Soto's current walk rate is only a tick above that of fellow power hitting prospect Juan Francisco, his strikeout rate is much better than Francisco's strikeout rate.


Soto is the all-time youth homerun champ in Puerto Rico, earning the distinction by breaking former MLB slugger Juan Gonzalez's all-time homerun mark. Soto is also one of those rare players that actually make a right-handed swing look good.

His setup involves a slightly wider than shoulder width stance and a high back elbow. When the pitch is delivered, Soto takes a very small stride towards the pitcher to transfer his weight. He has explosive hip action, which creates substantial rotational velocity and generates tremendous bat speed. As he clears his hips out of the way, he brings his long, fluid swing to bear on the ball. Despite the impressive bat speed and longer swing, Soto's plus hand-eye coordination allows him to make consistent, hard contact. He seems to have good control of the barrel of the bat throughout the hitting zone. He simply doesn't have the same problem making contact that plagues other power hitters, which makes him a more complete hitter and a more compelling prospect.

Soto reminds me a bit of Dustin Pedroia in that respect, as he takes a massive hack at the pitch, but consistently gets the barrel of the bat on the ball. Such a long, aggressive swing isn't supposed to produce such consistent contact, but plus hand-eye coordination makes it possible.

Below you can see a few photos of Soto at the plate.

In the photo on the left, you can see Soto's strong set-up, which gives him a solid foundation for his swing. In the middle photo, you can see Soto's head staying down on the ball and the good extension, as he gets out-and-through the ball. Also, you can see that the rotational velocity of his swing and the impressive bat speed at times cause him to spin out or roll over on his front foot just a bit. In the photo on the right, Soto maintains good balance throughout his swing and he keeps both hands on the bat in his follow through. Again, it's more personal preference than anything, but I've always favored hitters who keep both hands on the bat in the follow through. Keeping both hands on the bat ensures stability throughout the swing and prevents the bleeding of power from the swing. Of course, some argue that by taking the top hand off the bat you improve power by increasing extension, but if the top hand comes off too early in the swing, then you risk losing power. Of course, you can be successful either way, but ultimately I'm not much of a disciple of the Walt Hriniak style of hitting.

Below, you can see a video clip of Soto in action. Here, he hits a bomb in impressive style for the Dayton Dragons.

And, here is a clip of Soto as an amateur in a homerun contest. You can see his impressive swing and raw power. In addition, there are some very interesting slow motion shots of his swing fron different angles at the tail end of the clip, so it's definitely worth your time.

Soto has very impressive swing for a prospect his age and he will go as far as it takes him. Hopefully, Soto can demonstrate a bit more patience and an improved ability to control the strike zone, as more advanced competition may be able to take advantage of his aggressive approach. While his hitting skills are both advanced and polished, his defensive skills are not.


Soto was a shortstop when the Reds drafted him, but he clearly wasn't going to stick at the position. His poor agility and lack of first step quickness made it inevitable that he would slide down the defensive spectrum. In 2009, Soto spent the majority of his time at third base and designated hitter. In the best case scenario, Soto would be able to stick at the hot corner, but it seems more likely that he'll have to shift to first base. He has the arm strength to handle third, but the accuracy on his throws isn't great. In addition, he's just not mobile or athletic enough for third base. As he fills out, he's likely to slide down the defensive spectrum yet again. Fortunately, he has the hitting skills to handle any position on the spectrum.


Soto is one of the most intriguing offensive prospects in the Reds' farm system. He has a sweet swing and impressive raw power. Unfortunately, he isn't a great athlete and his other skills don't measure up to his hitting ability, but his bat will likely be strong enough to carry him to the major league level. Power is usually the last tool to develop, so it'll be very interesting to see what happens to Soto's already impressive power as he continues to develop. Given his swing and his amateur pedigree, it may not be much of a stretch to see him quickly develop into one of the premier power hitting prospects in the minors. Ideally, he'll be able to pair his contact and power skills with good on-base skills, but even if he doesn't he could be an impact hitter at the MLB level.

Soto is still young and has a lot of development left, but his upside lands him at #2 on the list.


  1. I like soto alot, I wonder how It will pan out with our third baseman. I think Francisco will become another willy mo and bring us good pitcher in a trade then fall off the face of the earth

  2. Smitty,

    Wily Mo is an interesting comparison. I hadn't considered that one. Francisco seems more polished than Wily Mo has ever been, so he *should* be a much better bet going forward. Francisco has much more baseball sense than Wily Mo, who is/was just a very toolsy player. Even so, I would like to see Francisco dealt for a player more in line with our team needs and our new speed/defense philosophy.

    As for third base, I still like Frazier for the future. Personally, I think Soto ends up at first base, which only adds to our 1b logjam (Votto, Alonso, and potentially Soto & Francisco, etc). Unless Dickerson and Stubbs step up to claim the outfield spots alongside Jay Bruce, the Reds will probably be tempted to "hide" one of those players in left.

    Despite graduating a lot of talent from the farm system last year, the Reds are still pretty well stocked. However, it's pretty unclear how all the pieces are going to fit together.

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. what would you do if you were the GM lark?

  4. Can't Soto play a corneroutfeild spot with Bruce in center and Voto in right. leaveing room for Alonso at firt.

  5. Smitty,

    Well, if I was the GM, I probably would have run the team into ground by now. :) You can bet that I wouldn't have brought in Willy T (though, I would have brought in Matt Murton). Still, even with the moves that were made this offseason, I don't think the calculus changes all that much. None of the additions were long-term solutions, so I'd still probably end up doing the same things.

    I'd start with the goal of putting the best defensive team in the NL on the field. That would be my strategy, as a good team defense is like a rising tide in that it would lift all boats. All the pitchers on the staff would benefit from a defense that converted balls in play into outs at a higher rate. I still think defense is underrated, as its impact on the game is substantial. Once I got the defense straightened out, then I'd move on to the pitching. However, the pitching for the Reds is already set up nicely, so I wouldn't need to worry about that very much.

    1) To me, the first move is to give Chris Dickerson every chance possible to prove his worth. He's the key player in a lot of respects. I'd give him all of 2009 to show what he can do. He gets at least 150 starts in leftfield in 2009. If he can live up to his potential on offense, then I lock him into a starting slot in the outfield.

    If Stubbs keeps developing, then he can play center in 2010. An outfield of Dickerson/Stubbs/Bruce could be tremendous on defense and at the plate. So, I'd give it every opportunity to happen.

    2) The second move is incredibly obvious. It's time to trade Edwin. He's not a third baseman and moving him down the defensive spectrum would simply continue to compromise the team defense. We have better and less expensive options coming up in the system. Trade him now while some teams still view him as a 3b. We have a lot of in house options, but I see Todd Frazier as the most likely replacement.

    3) Find a long term option behind the plate. To me, you do what it takes to get Taylor Teagarden from the Rangers. He has plus defensive skills and an emerging bat. Not to mention, he hits from the right side, so he'd add better balance to the lineup and give us an impact bat behind the plate.

    4) You have to find a long-term shortstop. At this point, I suppose you have to give Chris Valaika a look, but I have my doubts about his defense. If he can't handle it, then you have to look outside the organization. I'd give some serious consideration to calling the Angels and inquiring about Brandon Wood. Another righthanded, impact bat for the lineup. I'm not wild about his whiffs and lack of walks, but he could be a productive offensive player in GABP. Still, I suppose Valaika gets the first shot.

    In short, if Dickerson can handle MLB pitching, then the outfield is Dickerson/Stubbs/Bruce. That frees up either Yonder or Votto to be added to the trade block along with Edwin. At this point, I'd keep Votto and trade Yonder. Yonder would be cheaper and under control for a longer period, but Votto is already established and I'd like to win before I collect Social Security.

    So, I'd look to trade for Taylor Teagarden and also a shortstop if Valaika can't hack it. At this point, we are beginning to have more talent than places to play it, so some trades would be wise. I'd consider Edwin, Yonder, Juan Francisco, and some surplus starting pitching (maybe Arroyo at the trade deadline or one of Owings/Homer) as trade bait. I'd also start working Josh Roenicke into the bullpen and look to do the same with Zach Stewart when he is ready.

    If Dickerson can't handle MLB pitching, then you have an opening in leftfield and have to consider other options. Maybe Dorn, Votto, or Francisco would be options at that point. If not, then we can always explore trade options or a free agent replacement.

    There just aren't many holes left to fill at the MLB level and we have quite a bit of talent coming up through the system. A shrewd trade or two and we really might have something special. To me, it all starts with improved team defense.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day.

    Thanks for the comment!!


  6. Hey Anon,

    I think you could probably get away with Soto in leftfield, but I really don't want to see an outfield defense of Soto/Bruce/Votto. To me, that would rival the defensive ineptitude of the Griffey and Dunn outfields. I just don't see Votto as an outfielder and I don't think Bruce has the range to be an above average centerfielder. As for Soto, he strikes me as being a 1b, but it all depends on how he develops. It's possible that he could handle left, but I'm not sure he could be anything more than average out there (and even that might be a stretch).

    I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority, but I'm not willing to sacrifice defense to find a place for both Yonder and Alonso. I'd rather see the Reds follow the Brewers/LaPorta path with the Votto/Yonder dilemma. I'd rather see them trade one of the two for a player who better fits our needs, than try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    Maybe Votto is more competent in left than I realize. If he is, then it could be a workable strategy, but I doubt he's even average out there. If Dickerson can hit, then he should get the leftfield job. His combination of offense and defense would make him much more valuable than an out of position Yonder/Votto.

    It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I'm about done with playing guys out of position. We all suffered through the Griffey, Dunn, and (the ongoing) Edwin years and I just don't think you can win that way. Defense needs to be a top priority and it won't be if we are trying to hide guys in unfamiliar positions just to get their bats in the lineup.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!!


  7. remember in 1990 the Reds were not an offensive juggernaut, but won with pitching and defense

  8. Anon,

    Yeah, I think that's an interesting point. It has struck me that, as of late, the Reds have been good when they have had a strong bullpen. Obviously, you had The Nasty Boys in 1990, in 1995 you had Jeff Brantley and Mike Jackson, and in 1999 you had Danny Graves, Scott Williamson, Scott Sullivan, Dennys Reyes, and Gabe White.

    So, I'm certainly encouraged by the Reds efforts to become a pitching and defense first type team. Obviously, they still need offense, but they are morphing into a much more well-rounded team.

    Thanks for the comment!


  9. LOL LARK11, I couldnt agree with you more sir.
    1st- LF?? HMMM yea a tricky one huh. I agree

  10. Taveras had one bad year in colorado where he hit .251 but swiped 68 bags. Taveras is only 6 months older than dickerson, a true leadoff hitter and great bunter a taveras, stubbs and bruce outfield is more like it. Oh and leave votto at first and trade yonder for a great pitching prospect and trade arroyo. Let weathers and lincoln go and let fisher and roenicke come up from the minors and you now have a very strong starting rotation and bullpen. Keep Rhodes for his no nonsense lead by example attitude aside from the fact that he gets the job done.(let bray heal from surgery) Oh and yea send darnell mcdonald down and bring norris hopper back up. (WHY HASNT THIS BEEN DONE YET). Trade nix and gomes for some young prospects and you now have a young young team ready to compete for a NL crown year in and year out

  11. whats all the talk about kicking Edwin out of town, come on now people Edwin is still young and remember last year and the year before he hit .286 and around .275 respectively, ive noticed his defense has gotten better. Edwin is usually a late starter but he will come around and become more consistent. He is going to be a future star that will average nearly 30 homers and 80-85+ RBIS per year. HE IS YOUNG. We have done him like we did bailey, brought him up when he was barely 21 and threw him into the fire and said be a superstar rite away, it doesnt work that way.

  12. Hey Anon,

    Thanks for the comments. I'll address your Willy T thoughts over in your comment on the "Other Notables" post.

    I agree with you that we should trade one of Yonder or Votto. And, as of now, I think it should be Yonder. Votto has exceeded all my expectations. It's nice to be pleasantly surprised for a change. That doesn't happen much to us Reds fans.

    As for what they should target in return for Yonder, I'm not really sure. The obvious choices are catcher, shortstop, and starting pitching. We have some very good young arms in the rotation, but there isn't much in terms of impact arms on the horizon in the farm system. So, I supposed you could target a starting pitcher. I'd agree that it is almost time to part ways with Arroyo. He's a solid MLB starter, but his salary is high and if we can find a cost effective young arm to take his place, then he wouldn't be missed.

    As for the bullpen, Jocketty gave Lincoln a two year contract, so they are unlikely to cut him loose any time soon. They'll try to recoup their investment first. As for Weathers, he is walking way too many hitters, but his ERA is currently 2.87. I'd have no problems parting ways with him after the season, but he's not been a big problem this year. Still, I would have loved to get a compensatory pick for him this past offseason. The Reds just brought up Fisher, which is encouraging, but I'm not sure why Roenicke is still down on the farm. They could use his big time arm and ultimately I think he'll work high leverage innings for the Reds.

    I doubt the Reds would get much of value of Gomes and Nix. McDonald was just demoted and his days in Cincy are almost assuredly at an end.

    As for competing, we are pretty close. I'm not sure we'd even need to add much talent from outside the system to be in the playoff mix. We have Frazier, Yonder, and Valaika about ready to contribute. The bullpen should be solid, so we aren't far off of what we need to be.

    The next few years should be exciting times for Reds fans.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  13. Anon,

    As for your thoughts on Edwin, I'd be hard pressed to disagree more. If you believe in the new defensive metrics (and I do), then you'd be of the opinion that Edwin is regressing defensively. He's not getting better, he's getting worse. It's not just the errors, it's the fact that his range is minimal.

    To me, it would seem that the best case for Edwin would be something along the lines of ~25% above average on offense, but among the absolute worst on defense. It hardly matters if you are an above average offensive player if you give it all back on the defensive side of the game.

    Edwin is a big problem on this team and they would be in much better shape if they found a more viable option at the hot corner. He's already 26 and I'm just not sure how much upside he has left. I'd imagine there is some left in his bat, but as long as that comes with such terrible hot corner defense, it's just not worth it.

    Anyway, my $.02.