They are subtle differences, but Reds prospect Neftali Soto insists his off-season tweaking has netted noticeable results this spring.
Soto, who once posted a pair of 12-game hitting streaks while in Dayton playing for the Dragons, said he’s been working with minor-league hitting coach Tony Jaramillo on changing his grip and leg kick.
He’s made major strides in terms of spring training numbers in this, his second stint with the big club. Last year, Soto struck out seven times in 19 spring training at-bats. But before he started Friday night against Colorado, Soto was hitting at a .321 clip and has fanned just three times in 28 at-bats.
He credits the extra work for the uptick in productivity.
“I changed things a little bit and it works,” said Soto, who was scheduled to hit third in the lineup and play first base.
“Before, I was getting jammed a lot more. I was hitting balls in the zone foul, ones that I should hit. I upgraded my grip, and I changed my leg kick: I do it a little lower now, not as high. It works.”
Soto said some of his mannerisms worked in the organization’s lower levels. For example, he had 30 homers and hit .272 at Double-A Carolina in 2011. But he took a small step back last year, struggling in spring training, then finishing with a .245 average and 14 homers at Triple-A Louisville.
“When I moved up, the ball started moving more. The pitchers have more experience and they move the ball a lot,” Soto said. “The adjustments have let me hit those pitches a lot better.”
Armed with better stats this spring, Soto is earning more playing time, often filling in for Joey Votto while the slugger was off playing for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
“It feels great. Last year, my first year, I didn’t have what I expected in the spring. But this year has been great,” Soto said. “I’m hitting the ball well, I’m working on defense, too. It feels good.”
Meeting of the minds: Manager Dusty Baker delayed his typical media rendezvous for a meeting with the team’s ownership group, according to the club.
There was no word on what the group discussed, but Baker has repeatedly said he’s hoping for a decision on Aroldis Chapman’s place on the pitching staff by the middle of next week.
While Baker is uneasy about Chapman’s status, he lauded the way pitching coach Bryan Price has handled the rest of the staff. Baker said Thursday that Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey have all thrived under Price’s tutelage and scheduling.
Extra bases: While the Reds started slowly at the plate this spring, they have picked up the pace. Shin-Soo Choo came into Friday night’s game with a four-game hitting streak and had reached in seven of his last nine at-bats. As Baker said earlier this week, “Mr. Choo can hit.” Also, Zack Cozart had a three-game hitting streak after Thursday’s late loss to the Mariners. … Today is another split-squad day as one team will travel to Maryvale to meet the Brewers and another will head to Scottsdale to square off with the Giants. Mike Leake is scheduled to make his fourth appearance of the spring against Milwaukee while Aroldis Chapman will pitch against the Giants. … Sunday’s game against the Indians will be on Fox Sports Ohio (4 p.m.).