Originally from Puerto Rico, Neftali Soto was drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 2007 draft. Soto’s one plus skill is his power which has never been more on display than in 2011 at Double-A. During that season Soto belted 30 home runs with a .303 ISO in 414 plate appearances. His home run total tied Paul Goldschmidt for the most in the league despite Soto missing a month with a broken bone in his left wrist. With 51 home runs combined between 2010 and 2011, Soto looked like one of the better power hitting prospects in the minor leagues.
However, the free-swinging first baseman was not able to provide the same amount of pop in his first two seasons at Triple-A. In 240 games Soto hit 29 home runs—a respectable number, but not when paired up with a below average walk rate and a middling batting average. Soto actually regressed last year in his second full season at Triple-A with a decrease in his walk rate from 8.0 percent to 5.3 percent and a decrease in his ISO from a league average .155 in 2012 to .143 in 2013.
Despite his unimpressive season at Triple-A, the Reds decided to give Soto his first cup of coffee and promoted him to the majors in September. Soto promptly fell flat on his face, going hitless in 13 plate appearances with six strikeouts. While he has failed to impress since his breakout 2011 season, Soto still has plus power that he can tap into and has a chance to win a job on the Reds’ bench during spring training.
Soto’s main competition for a bench spot this spring will come from infielder Chris Nelson, who was recently signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. While Nelson had a breakout season at the plate in 2012 with an .810 OPS for the Colorado Rockies, his awful defense that year mitigated his offense to the point that he was worth -0.9 Wins Above Replacement. Nelson is also just as allergic to walks as Soto. If Soto can display some improvement in his plate discipline and showcase his plus power, he just may have a chance to go north with the Reds this spring.