Glance at the Arizona baseball roster and something quickly stands out: nearly every one of the Wildcats’ 33 players come from four states renowned as baseball hotbeds – Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas. Just one player — Elmwood Park, NJ, freshman left-handed pitcher Jared Forestieri — hails from the Northeast.
With very few exceptions, New York City players don’t go to schools like Arizona, which has churned out 200 major-league draft picks and made the trip to Omaha for the College World Series 15 times, winning three national championships.
Those few who do make the trip out West have live arms. But then again, Elvin Soto isn’t your average New York City baseball player.
The switch-hitting catcher with a rocket for an arm and a personality to match is embarking on his junior year at Xaverian, but he has already verbally committed to play at the Pac-10 powerhouse.
“You look at rosters — Texas, Miami, Arizona, California — it’s straight south players,” Xaverian centerfielder J.T. Torres said. “It’s crazy. He’s a great catcher, a great player.”
Playing behind senior Nolan Smalls, Soto had a relatively quite sophomore year at Xaverian, but he had a breakout summer with the Bayside Yankees. He earned an invite to the Arizona Junior Fall Classic, a showcase for the top players graduating in 2012 from the United States and Canada.
“He’s a switch-hitting catcher with a 60-plus arm [on an 80-scale]. There’s not too many of them around,” Bayside Yankees president Marc Cuseta said. “When the level of competition stepped up, he stepped up his game big and as the summer progressed, he was a hot commodity.”
Soto went on a tear there, doubling off the wall and hitting a home run at the San Diego Padres Spring Training facility.
That’s when scholarship offers from major Division I schools started pouring in like Facebook friend requests – teams from the Pac-10, SEC and Big East all were suddenly vying for Soto. He was deciding between Louisville and Boston College when Arizona assistant Mark Wasikowski reached out on New Year’s Day.
“He said we want you to come down and play for us for free,” Soto said. “You’re going to come in and you can compete.”
That was all Soto, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, needed to hear.
“Arizona was basically my top choice,” Soto said. “I got a lot of good offers, but Arizona was the place I wanted to be since I was a little kid and started playing baseball.”
While it’s rare for a New York City field player to make a Pac-10 roster, Cuseta said Soto’s skill set and engaging personality makes him a must get.
“With his arm and his offensive abilities, he’s an unusual combination,” Cuseta said. “It’s a good fit, if he even goes there.”
It’s too early to project where Soto could get drafted — the summer and next spring will determine that — but he’s already piqued the interest of some area scouts.
“After assessing the fact that Elvin is capable of doing damage from both sides of the plate and can throw in the big leagues right now, you then realize that you’re also dealing with a high-quality kid and that makes him even more likable,” an American League scout said, speaking under the condition of anonymity. “When you put talent and personality together that gives you a potentially special player.”
Soto’s hard work and dedication is evident on a daily basis. It is why he makes the trek to Bay Ridge from his Bronx home every day, making sure he’s there in time for assistant coach Frank Del George’s optional 7 am batting practice.
“It just shows his ability and his work ethic,” Xaverian coach Lou Piccola said. “It just doesn’t happen. You have to work at something like this to get rewards.”