This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Neftali Soto
The Cincinnati Reds drafted Neftali Soto in the third round in 2007, out of high school in Manati, Puerto Rico. A star on the island who broke Juan Gonzalez's high school home run records, Soto lasted until the third round because he was considered rather raw. He had a good pro debut in 2007, hitting .303/.355/.454 in 40 games in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. After beginning 2008 in extended spring training, he was assigned to Billings in the Pioneer League in June. Outstanding performance there earned him a promotion to Dayton in the Midwest League, where he was an impressive offensive force throughout the second half of the season.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Soto is a right-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-2, 180 pounds, born February 28th, 1989. His best physical attribute is simple strength: he's muscular and powerful, and should add more power as he matures. He already has well above average bat speed, and scouts like his hitting mechanics and knack for contact. Soto's plate discipline is below average at this point. His strikeout rate isn't out of bounds and he makes hard contact even on pitches he shouldn't necessarily swing at, but at higher levels he will need to work the count more effectively. He has a strong arm, but his speed is below average and he didn't have the range to stick at shortstop, his position in high school. He should be able to stick at third base with more experience.
Soto hit .303/.355/.454 with 11 walks and 31 strikeouts in 152 at-bats in the GCL in 2007. He began 2008 hitting .388/.423/.746 in 15 games in the Pioneer League, with 10 doubles and four homers in just 67 at-bats. Clearly too good for that level, he was promoted to the Midwest League in July and hit .326/.343/.500 the rest of the way for Dayton. He drew just seven walks against 36 strikeouts in 218 at-bats for the Dragons. The strikeout rate is low for a guy with this much power, but the walk rate is a red flag about his plate discipline at higher levels. Nevertheless, at age 19 he has lots of development time ahead to work on that. Soto's home/road and left/right splits are normal, and aside from the low walk rate he doesn't have any real statistical flaws.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Soto is a long way from the majors, and he has to prove that he can make the needed adjustments. He could begin 2009 at the High-A level, but given his rapid advancement this year and need for additional experience, it seems logical that the Reds would give him as much time as possible at that level, polishing up his defense and refining the strike zone. Don't expect Soto in the majors before late in 2010, and perhaps not until 2011. His ceiling, however, is potentially quite high, and in a long-term league with a deep farm roster, and investment in Soto would make sense.
Next week we will update the Top 100 Prospects list.
Article first appeared 9/28/08