I wrote this past Sunday about the Cardinals' initial run of international signings as the July 2nd period opened up for the year. That initial flood of signings included some very intriguing names among the eight or nine players locked in out of the gate, and in the days since then the Cards have announced a handful more players they've come to terms with, though none, I don't believe, who are on the same level as that first batch of players. (Then again, exactly how strongly a player's level of toutedness at sixteen correlates to future success is a very sketchy road to go down, so take all of this with more grains of salt than one of those big novelty margaritas you get from chain Mexican restaurants.)
Speaking of various things Mexican, one of the names that jumped out at me from the crowd of the Cards' international signees was that of Carlos Soto, a catching prospect from South of the border whose best tool, at this early juncture, is a power bat that could give him a relatively rare profile down the road, if he's able to hone his craft enough to remain behind the plate. (That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a pro-grade segue, and this is what you call hanging a lampshade on said segue, as well as the sort of meta-commentary on the work itself generally resorted to only by painfully pretentious assholes who desperately want to be David Foster Wallace when they grow up.) Soto was actually eligible to sign with a club last year, but decided to put it off until this year.
Soto jumped off the page a bit to me for a couple reasons. One, the simple fact he's Mexican, rather than Dominican or Venezuelan (or Cuban, which was a bit of a theme this particular year), is a slightly unusual thing. There have been Mexican big leaguers, of course; our own Jaime Garcia was born in Mexico, as well as former Redbird closer Fernando Salas, just to name a couple with organisational ties. But for a country so close to the birthplace of baseball, with so much cultural mingling, Mexico has remained staunchly futbol-focused, with only the Northern portion of the country (particularly the Baja region, from what I understand, which is near San Diego and Tijuana), really embracing the game. So Mexican players, particularly those talented enough to be signed in the July 2nd period, rather than gradually making their way toward affiliated ball through Mexican League teams or Indy ball or American colleges, are still, at this point, collectively odd ducks.
Second is the simple fact he's a catcher, and features power as his best tool. That's an instant game-changer, at least potentially, for me, anytime you can find a guy behind the plate capable of altering the game with one swing. I will still, in most cases, prioritise the hit tool over power, but I admit to getting a little wide-eyed when it's a catcher with big time power potential.
And so I've been interested by Carlos Soto since his name popped up in relation to the Cardinals, and in doing a bit of research (I said on Sunday I don't scout these players the way I do draft-eligible players from America, and that's true, but that doesn't mean I won't look), I found some really quite good video of Soto I thought you all might enjoy looking at to help form some impression of the player. So here we go.
First off, let's talk a little about the body.
Soto is a big kid already, and remember, this video is from last summer, when he was first eligible to sign. As a sixteen year old in particular, it stands out how filled out he already appears to be, thick through both the middle and his lower body. If he was a white American kid, he would be described as 'country strong'; however, it appears that appellation isn't usually applied to players of other backgrounds, despite the fact rural folk in other countries tend to do very similar sorts of physical labour as those from farming country here. But that's the sort of body we're talking about, clearly; he's a big, strong kid with plenty of meat already on him, even at sixteen.
The downside to that, of course, is that at 6'3" and already fairly mature, Soto is just a big dude, period. And while catchers are nearly always in the thicker range in terms of body type (non-Jason Kendall division), you could see Soto simply getting too big to be as nimble as necessary behind the plate. I have no way of knowing if that's the case, mind you; there are no live fielding drills of balls in the dirt or anything to see how well he moves back there. But, a big kid at sixteen can easily turn out to be a huge man at twenty-three, so the body will bear watching.
The arm definitely jumps out, more so in the outfield drills than behind the plate so far. Coming up out of the crouch and throwing down to second, Soto seems to have plenty of lift in his legs, but doesn't fully commit to the throw the way you want to see. A few of those he looks like he's guiding the ball down to second base, rather than aggressively stepping into the throw and letting it fly. Probably a confidence thing, and something that will improve with time and reps. More importantly, when he's throwing from right field to third, you can easily see the raw arm strength is definitely plus. He still throws like a catcher, actually, with that short, cock-and-release arm motion rather than a longer arm circle which is more common in outfielders, but he's getting that ball over to third in a hurry. That says to me he has the arm strength to be a plus thrower from behind the plate, once he improves the conviction in his mechanics.
Unfortunately, there's not enough here to really divine much about his receiving. He seems to take the ball fine when preparing to throw down to second, but that's a drill situation only. We would need far more to draw any real conclusions, and even with more video, evaluating catcher defense is hard, and I'm just not very good at it.
In the batter's box, though, is where things really start to get interesting.
I really, really like what I see in Soto at the plate. Thankfully, he's hitting with wood here, so we can get a look at how strong his swing plays with the sort of bat he'll need to hit with in the future, instead of an engineered fiberglass, ceramic, or even aluminum bat, which can cover for a whole host of sins, so much so that we've seen innumerable college players fail to translate to pro ball over the years simply because the weight and lack of forgiveness of wood exposed their flaws.
That's not an issue here. Carlos Soto can swing wood just fine at sixteen, and I assume he'll be able to continue doing so in the future.
First off, you all probably know by now if you've read my scouting pieces for all these years that I'm a sucker for a hitter with a leg kick, and the reason why is exactly what you see with Soto here: the timing is outstanding, and he gets excellent transfer of power in his swing without overcommitting, thanks to the leg kick mechanism. That's big time power Soto is showing, and while it's batting practice, if you can hit a ball 340'+ then that ability is in there, period. The balance in the swing makes me optimistic the power should translate to games, as well; he's pulling the ball, but not selling out on his front foot to try and yank it.
That's excellent natural loft, as well; it's enough of an upward path in the swing to get the ball into the air and carrying, but not so much he's just trying to uppercut everything and ending up with an overly steep angle. He loads the bat beautifully behind his head, generating plenty of power in that coil that he can release in a hurry. That's a swing that looks like it should produce more than enough power to play anywhere.
Admittedly, it's tough to know how accurate those stadium measurements are, since we know that even the numbers in major league parks are a little fuzzy in certain places (Houston's left-field line, I'm looking at you), but assuming they're not off by 50+ feet (and I have no reason to believe they are), then Soto is pretty easily hitting those balls 330 or more, meaning there's plenty in the tank.
Overall, the swing in general reminds me a little of that of Carlos Santana, the former catcher/current first base/DH for the Cleveland Indians. Santana is a switch-hitter, but his swing from the left side provides a pretty good point of comparison for Soto's. Similar leg kick, in which the player brings the knee back toward the center line of the body, similar coil of the bat and torso, and a similar sort of sweeping swing, with a nice amount of loft to get the ball in the air. Jose Guillen comes to mind a bit, too, though Guillen was much more spread out, sacrificing some power for a more contact-oriented all-field approach. I wish I could come up with a mental comparison who wasn't Latin, as I usually try to make comps across racial lines if I can, but those are the two players I've got in my head at the moment.
Obviously, we're not going to see Carlos Soto anytime soon. At seventeen and playing catcher, he's probably five years away in the best-case scenario, and the pitfalls between where he is now and the major leagues are legion. But looking at even just a few minutes of video, it's fairly easy to see what's attractive about him as a player. Contact skills don't always jump out in BP and drills; it takes lots of time watching a player hit live pitching to really get a feel for how strong his bat-to-ball skills are. But power potential you can spot, and a sound mechanical swing basically screams at you even in practice. Those two things Soto seems to have in spades, and while I'm not really more or less optimistic about him sticking at catcher than I was before, I will say that if he moves out from behind the plate, it probably won't be because he lacked the arm to make the throws.
Hopefully you feel like you know a little more now about a player who was just a name in a report before this. I certainly had only the vaguest notion of who Carlos Soto was before the Cards signed him. Looking at what he brings to the table, though, I have to say I like what I see.