It's no news to any Reds fan that Joey Votto may not be with the team past the 2013 season. An unfortunate truth of being a team with salary constrictions is that you can't always afford to keep your star players. Ask the Brewers and Mets how they feel going into this season after watching Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes depart for greener pastures.
It's a deflating feeling to watch a player leave your favorite team but let's take a look at one of the more intriguing and overlooked players in the Reds farm system, 2007 third-round draft pick, Neftali Soto.
Neftali Soto is a 22-year-old, Puerto Rican-born prospect in the Cincinnati Reds farm system. He's 6'2", 180 pounds and has shown two straight seasons of impressive raw power. Expect Soto to grow into his 6'2" frame over time as I suspect he won't weigh 180 pounds by the time he cracks the big-league roster.
The Reds were impressed enough with Soto to add him to the 40-man roster following the 2011 season in order to keep him out of the rule five draft.
Now that you know who he is, let me tell you why Soto could very well be the answer to the first base question if/when Joey Votto leaves Cincinnati.
Soto is still very young, so his approach at the plate, stance and even his swing will be tweaked a little before reaching the majors, but there's no denying what he has done in the minors thus far.
Over the past two seasons, Soto has seen three different levels of competition. In the 2010 season, his talents took him through high A Lynchburg. Soto then started the 2011 season in AA Carolina and earned himself a promotion to AAA Louisville for the last four games of their season.
Soto's 2010 season was great: He played in 134 games, had 522 at-bats and went .268/.319/.460 with 21 HR, 73 RBI and 73 runs scored. If 2010 was great, 2011 was incredible. Soto played 106 games between AA and AAA, had 396 at-bats and went .278/.333./.576 with 31 HR, 80 RBI and 71 runs scored. In two seasons, Soto complied 52 home runs—that's right, I said 52! He also improved his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Improvement over multiple years is crucial to developing minor leaguers and all in all those are two very promising seasons from a young professional player.
The Reds play excellent defense and Joey Votto is one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, hence his 2011 Gold Glove Award. Since his move to first base in 2010, Neftali Soto has proven to be a very capable first baseman. He's made only 11 errors over the last two seasons, seven in 2010 and four in 2011. Although it's only first base, you still want to see defensive promise in young players and Soto has shown that.
Two full seasons at first base and Soto has produced a combined .993 fielding percentage. That .993 fielding percentage is just .003 less than Votto's last season and equal to the major league average at first base. Soto should work very well defensively as a first baseman at the major league level.
Neftali Soto is a very promising prospect. I don't think he gets quite the recognition he deserves, but I attribute that mostly to the overwhelming presence of Yonder Alonso. With Alonso gone, Soto is next in line for the major league job behind Votto.
You'll most likely see Soto in September when rosters expand and if Joey Votto doesn't return after 2013, you could see Soto in the lineup to start the 2014 season. By then, I think Soto could prove to be a force at the plate and could produce numbers like this: .285/.360/.590, 25 HR, 80+ RBI and 80+ runs.
I may be getting a little ahead of myself with predictions for Soto's 2014 major league season, but for now we'll have to settle for watching this young talent develop in Louisville.