Third baseman brings hot bat from Billings to Dayton

By Marc Katz

Staff Writer

Friday, July 11, 2008

DAYTON — Just three games into his stay with the Dayton Dragons, 19-year-old third baseman Neftali Soto was drawing high praise from his coaches.

"Soto made some other guys come alive," Dragons manager Donnie Scott said.

"He's the Jay Bruce of the Dayton Dragons," said hitting coach Darren Bragg.

"It's amazing how much difference one hitter will make in the lineup," Reds minor league pitching coordinator Mack Jenkins said.

"I just love to play baseball," said Soto.

When Soto arrived from Billings, the Dragons had lost 10 of their previous 14 games. They lost the night he arrived, too, despite his double, batting third in the order. They won the next two games and Soto entered the game Thursday, July 10, with a .417 batting average, three doubles and three RBIs.

"When you have a 3-hole hitter," Bragg said, "you're better. The first inning is not an easy inning (for the opposition). Even if you get the first two, the third guy is difficult.

"Soto has a plan. He doesn't go into the batting cage trying to hit the ball out. He goes to all fields. You aren't going to get anything out of 100 swings if your mind's not there. You get more out of five swings if your mind's there."

It was the intention of the Reds — who drafted Soto in the supplemental third round last summer out of Puerto Rico — to keep him at rookie Billings the rest of the summer.

However, third baseman Brandon Waring — yet another high-profile prospect — broke his thumb last week and the pared-down Reds system had to move Soto here.

That will make it interesting in a week or so when Waring returns to the lineup, although Soto played last season as a shortstop and Waring has been used at first base.

Multi-sports guy

In the offseason, outfielder Justin Reed helps his uncle train pacers in Jackson, Miss.

"My dad was working with horses before I could walk," Reed said. "I work with them because I love it. When it gets close to spring training, I stop training horses and go to the gym. Then I eat lunch and go hit."

Horse racing isn't Reed's only other sport. He was offered a football scholarship at Ole Miss to play defensive back. He turned it down for baseball. The Reds took him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft.