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Soto has hot bat, seeks spot to play

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It seems like any contact that Reds prospect Neftali Soto has made has been loud, very loud. And the balls that he has hit have gone far, very far.

Soto entered Thursday hitting .571 (8-for-14) with one home run and four doubles in six games this spring. All of his extra base hits have come over the last four games. On March 3 vs. the Mariners, he hit two doubles to the same spot off the wall in straightaway center field. His homer, vs. the Dodgers on Wednesday, was an opposite-field shot to right field.

"I'm trying to stay that way," Soto said Thursday. "The best hitters do it, so why not do it? That approach allows me to do the rest. I can pull the ball or do whatever."

Reds manager Bryan Price believes Soto's success is partially a product of his having played winter ball in Puerto Rico, and getting regular at-bats in camp.

"A lot of these younger players that are in camp right now are getting a lot of playing time and a lot of at-bats -- as many if not more than the regulars," Price said. "He's taking advantage of it. He's not missing good pitches to hit out over the plate. He's got a nice right-center approach. He's driving the ball from right-center to left-center. The approach is there."

Soto, who turned 25 on Feb. 28, spent much of 2013 at Triple-A Louisville and batted .271 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs. His also made his big league debut and had three stints with the Reds but was 0-for-12 in 13 games. The year was an improvement from a 2012 season, when he batted .245, but the Reds want to see more.

"He has to have a more prolific season at Triple-A," Price said. "He's been a solid player for us in Louisville. But if you're going to play first base, you have to do some real damage."

Until last season, Soto had been primarily a first baseman the previous three years -- a position where he was blocked by Joey Votto.

In 2013, Soto played both corner infield spots. This spring, he's put in extra time as a catcher during workouts and bullpen sessions.

"He's a guy doing early and late work on his catching and trying to be a viable option maybe as a third catcher and even better than that," Price said. "His work day is as long as anyone here right now."

If Soto can make the Reds as an extra catcher, it would free Price to use backup catcher Brayan Pena as a pinch-hitter more often, without worrying about a backup for primary catcher Devin Mesoraco.

"That adds value. There's also a feeling in here that he has a chance to be better than a third catcher. We're getting good reports from [catching coordinator] Mike Stefanski on his development. No one is going to say right now that he won't move up the depth chart at the catching position."

Soto caught 10 games at High A ball in 2010 before going to first base.

"I've got to take it more seriously now that I'm 25," Soto said. "I think I'm ready to be in the big leagues. I want to be there. Anything that would help me get there is great for me."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }
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