Meet Juan Soto, DC’s newest superstar

“Soto is on pace to go down as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, and he does so with a never before seen swagger and enthusiasm.”

Photo+via+Tony+Quinn%2FIcon+Sportswire+via+Getty+images

Photo via Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty images

Marc Goldstein, Assistant Editor in Chief

La madurez se logra con la experiencia no con la edad. For those who are not fluent in Spanish, that translates to “maturity is achieved with experience not age.” For 22-year-old Juan Soto, Washington Nationals’ all-world outfielder, those words hold truthful to Soto. For the young superstar, he has quickly established himself as not only the best player on the Nationals, but one of the most exciting players in the MLB. 

 

Born on October 22, 1998, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Soto has had baseball in his blood. Soto’s father, Juan Soto Sr., was not only a local salesman, but a catcher in the local men’s league. These values of loving the game were instilled in him on the baseball diamond from the moment he stepped within the white lines on the field.

 

The Nationals signed Soto at the age of 16, the same age when many students are in their sophomore year of high school. Soto was assigned to the Nationals’ lowest level of their farm system. He was one of the most sought after international prospects of all time, and the Nationals ended up with their prized young outfielder. In his first professional season, not even at the age of 18, he put up astounding numbers in the Gulf Coast League, with a .368 batting average, 5 home runs and 32 runs batted in (RBI). He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, and earned himself a promotion to the next tier of the Nationals’ minor league system. 

 

Minor League Baseball is structured in a somewhat confusing manner to those unfamiliar with them. The lowest level is the Gulf Coast League, where most draft picks and international free agents begin their journey. Next is the short-season Class A team. After that it is the low Class A team, followed by the Advanced A team. Finally, the next closest steps to the majors is double A (AA), and triple A (AAA). Simply put, the higher the level, the more “A”s in the name. This information will become very useful as he makes his rise through the minor leagues for the Nationals

Photo via Clinton Riddle/Vox Media

Soto only played in the final few games of the 2016 season with the low A Auburn Doubledays, but showed no signs of being overmatched, continuing his prowess with a .429 average in the next step up. It is important to keep in mind that while these stats are incredible for anyone, he was doing them all at the same age of many high school students in the US. He was legally a minor, and his parents actually signed his first professional contract. 

 

 

As the 2017 season started, the Nationals wanted to see how Soto would respond to another challenge. They promoted him to the low A Hagerstown Suns. He dominated once again. No one was able to slow down Soto’s ascent, that is until he injured his ankle early in the season. He was sidelined for quite a while, and by the time he got back, the Nationals decided it was in his best interest to shut him down for the season in an attempt to have him back in 2018. 

 

In 2018, he reemerged as the superstar prospect that the Nationals knew and developed. Soto got off to a red-hot start with a .373 average, 5 home runs and 24 RBI with Hagerstown. After only 16 games, he was promoted to the next level, Advanced A Potomac Nationals. He continued his hot start there, hitting .371 with 7 home runs and 31 RBI. Once again, he did not last long at this level, staying a mere 15 games before yet another promotion. He went to the AA Harrisburg Senators and, shockingly, kept on hitting. Due to both his age, and his lack of experience, the results were surprising for Soto. In Harrisburg, he only lasted a total of eight games, as an injury to Howie Kendrick forced the Nationals to call up the teenage Soto. 

 

Upon arriving in the MLB, not only were there sky-high expectations for Soto, but there were many questions. The most obvious and prevalent was, “Why was a player who had yet to play 10 games at AA promoted to the big leagues?”. The Nationals clearly knew something everyone else did not, because in Soto’s first career start and second plate appearance, he hit a booming three-run homer to left field. Any and all questions about his ability to hit major league pitching were quickly answered. 

Photo via the Nats Report

Over the course of the rest of the season, Soto put up unnatural numbers. These numbers were very impressive for a seasoned verteran, but for a 19 year old rookie, they were historic. As a 19 year old rookie he hit .279 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, narrowly behind close friend and division rival Ronald Acuna Jr of the Atlanta Braves. 

 

During the entirety of the season, Soto played as one of the best teenage hitters in MLB history. He also was teammates with one of the previous great teenage hitters, Bryce Harper. Harper was the most widely known player on the Nationals at the time, as his contract was up at the end of the season, leading to a season long debacle over whether or not he will re-sign with the team. Soto slowly but surely turned heads in the league and by the end of his rookie season he did so well that he earned the nickname Childish Bambino. This is a combination of the famous Donald Glover’s rapping stage name, Childish Gambino, as well as Babe Ruth’s nickname, The Great Bambino. 

In the offseason, Harper signed with the rival Philadelphia Phillies. This shocked many in the baseball world, especially those within the Nationals organization. The majority of baseball analysts looked at the 2019 Nationals as a talented team without a superstar. Soto seemingly took that personally, as he took a massive leap forward. In 2019, he hit 34 home runs and drove in 110 runs, while hitting for a .282 average. His efforts aided the Nationals in winning the franchise’s first World Series.

 

As the 2019 season progressed, more and more people began to recognize Soto as a premier hitter in the league. His ability to hit the ball to all fields (right field, centerfield and left field) is a rare skill for any player. Considering he is still very young in his career, this skillset has almost never been seen in the history of the MLB.

Photo via Savant

For statistical oriented people around the MLB, the 2020 season was as confusing as any of the previous seasons combined. Not only did the shortened schedule skew the numbers, but the lack of fans and independent variables greatly messed with some stats. These variables include weather and variety of stadiums, and are all the factors that are actually included in advanced metrics. According to the advanced metrics, Juan Soto, at 22-years-old, was one of the best players in the MLB in 2020. He led the league with a .351 batting average and nearly got on base in half of his plate appearances with a .490 on base percentage. 

 

 

Advanced metrics, like those shown through Statcast or Savant have actually shown just how good Soto is at the plate. He hits far above the league average on not only fastballs, but offspeed pitches. For many young players, the biggest learning curve at the plate is learning how to deal with professional offspeed pitches. Many players take at least one or two seasons to fully figure out how to hit them. For Soto, he hit so well against them in his rookie season that he has actually seen less of them in the past two seasons. Additionally, he has more hits to the opposite field (left field for a left handed batter, right field for a right handed batter) than almost anyone in the game. Last season, he hit the same percentage of balls to left and right field, 26.2%. That is such a rarity in baseball, and he did it as a 21 year old player.

 

With all those stats, where does that leave the Nationals? Soto is on pace to go down as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, and he does so with a never before seen swagger and enthusiasm. Soto has characterized the phrase “a kid playing an adult’s game.” He plays with a bright, glowing smile and a competitiveness to match. Very rarely does Soto look overmatched or overwhelmed on the diamond. He has played in the biggest games on the biggest stages and not backed down. He proves that every single night, as he approached every individual matchup as a challenge to demonstrate to the world that he is one of the best players.

 

The swagger is exemplified every time he steps up to the plate. His patented “Soto Shuffle,” where he stares back at the pitcher after every pitch, is something that differs him from others. Some pitchers take issue with it, like Mike Mikolas of the Cardinals during the 2019 postseason where he mocked Soto after striking him out. Others say they have no issue with it, and that he can do what he wants. His infectious smile sticks out on the diamond, as he strikes up conversations with umpires, teammates, and opponents regularly. 

Photo via Jeff Roberson/Richmond Times-Dispatch
 

Even off the field, Soto has become a DC superstar. The young outfielder has gone out of his way to become a massive part of the community, helping youth organizations and taking younger players under his wing. Additionally, he entered the US as a teenager who didn’t know a single word of English. In just under five years, he has achieved fluency of the English language. He has a minuscule accent, and for someone who is not only new to the country, but trying to balance being a professional athlete, that is quite the feat. 

 

Juan Soto, all of 22-years-old, has taken DC and baseball by storm. He is now in the upper echelon of players, and for good reason. Statistically, he answers the bell, as he has an argument for being not only the best player in the league, but also the best in Nationals franchise history. For many Nationals fans, when Harper left there was a feeling of the loss of marketability within the franchise and that they were not appealing to many free agents due to a “bland” team. Soto has changed that narrative in no time. In fact, he has been even more marketable than Harper, as his jersey was the fifth top selling in all of baseball last season. As for the future, the sky really is the limit. Soto has blasted through any expectations for him upon entering the league, and there is no reason to doubt that he will not continue that trend. The Nationals know that they have one of the best players in the League at this point, and they will do everything in their power to make the most of it.