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."
Leake likely to start Friday after brief setback
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake appears set to make his spring debut on Friday in a split-squad game vs. the White Sox. Leake's previously scheduled start on Sunday was scratched because of a minor abdominal strain.
On Wednesday, Leake passed a final test by throwing in the bullpen without issue.
"It looks good. We're optimistic that he'll be able to pitch," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We're going to get through today, go out and play catch and make sure everything is good. We don't want to put anyone in a high-risk situation. He has got to feel 100 percent."
Leake was 14-7 with a 3.37 ERA in 31 starts and 192 1/3 innings -- all career bests -- last season for Cincinnati.
Reds consider hiring staffer to help with replay
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Reds are still determining their protocol on how to handle the mechanics of the new instant replay rule instituted by Major League Baseball for this season.
One issue to be decided is who the club will use to watch the games and alert manager Bryan Price that he should ask umpires to review a potential missed call. Manager of video scouting Rob Coughlin is not viewed as a preferred option at this point.
"Rob is outstanding but he's also going to be trying to satisfy the player requests during the game," Price said Thursday. "We can't dilute anybody's position. Lee Tinsley will be inside working as the assistant hitting coach but he might be getting a pinch-hitter ready in the cage."
The Reds will be seeking someone with a baseball background that can understand the difference between high-leverage and low-leverage situations and the difference between a call that's conclusive vs. inconclusive. A couple of teams are considering former umpires for the role.
Whoever is chosen, it could mean the hiring of a new member for the Reds' staff.
"You travel with the guy," Price said. "It's another hotel room, another person on the plane, another packet of meal money. It's another salary to pay. You're going to have to pay these people to do this job. If you don't find somebody that's in-house that's already part of your traveling party, you're incurring significant expense."