Juan Jose Soto Pacheco
(The Childish Bambino)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 1", Weight 185 lb.
Outfielder Juan Soto signed with the Washington Nationals as a 17-year-old before the 2016 season. He had a meteoric rise through the minor league ranks, getting off to a booming start by hitting .361 in 45 games for the GCL Nationals his first year. He was then promoted to the Auburn Doubledays where he hit .429 in 6 games. An injury then limited him to 32 games in 2017, but he made the most of these, as he hit .351/.415/.505 between the Gulf Coast League and the Class A Hagerstown Suns.
In 2018, he started the year back at Hagerstown, but he was clearly too strong for the South Atlantic League, hitting .373 in 16 games. On April 24th, he was promoted to the Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League, but that was also too easy for the young phenom, as he hit .371 in 15 games. So up he went to the AA Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League. There he hit .323 with 2 doubles and 2 homers in 8 games, and when Howie Kendrick fell victim to a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury on May 19th, the Nats decided that there was no point in letting him terrorize that league's pitchers as well, and they called him up to the nation's capital, where he was set to become the youngest player in the majors and the first teenager to play for the team since Bryce Harper had made his debut before his 20th birthday in 2012.
While his call-up was the result of his performance, the Nats were also desperate for healthy bodies, given that in addition to Kendrick, OFs Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Victor Robles and Rafael Bautista were all on the disabled list, in addition to sundry others. He made his debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 20th, striking out as a pinch-hitter against Erik Goeddel. A day later, he hit a three-run dinger off Robbie Erlin of the San Diego Padres. The last teenager to homer in the big leagues had been Harper. On June 13th, he had a two-homer game at New Yankee Stadium, becoming only the third teenager to homer twice in a road game, after Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Ken Griffey, Jr. He was playing so well that the Nats were keeping him around and playing regularly even after Eaton and Goodwin returned from their injuries. Indeed, he was named the National League Rookie of the Month for June when he batted .317, scored 19 runs, hit 6 doubles and as many homers, and drove in 15 runs. He also drew 18 walks in 19 games, showing tremendous patience at the plate for a player with such limited professional experience. He repeated as winner of the award in July when he hit .299 and slugged .564 with 5 homers and 15 RBIs. In early August, Atlanta Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson cast doubts on Soto's real age, claiming he was too big and strong to be just 19. Confronted by Nats GM Anthony Rizzo, Simpson walked back his comments. On September 14th, Soto became just the third teenager in major league history to have a 20-homer season, following Tony Conigliaro and teammate Harper. The following day, he became the youngest player in history to steal three bases in one game, in a 7-1 win over the Braves in a series that was billed as a showdown between the sport's two youngest superstars: Soto and Ronald Acuna. Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson had set the mark back in 1979, but had been nearly a year older. He ended the year by being named Rookie of the Month for the third time in four months when he hit .283 with 6 homers and 20 RBIs in September. He finished the season at .292 in 166 games, with 22 homers and 70 RBIs and was runner-up to Ronald Acuna in the Rookie of the Year vote.
In 2019, he was joined in the outfield by fellow youngster Victor Robles. On April 28th, Soto, Robles and Carter Kieboom all homered in a 7-6 win over the San Diego Padres, giving the Nats the first trio of players 21 or younger to homer in the same game. Ironically, at 20, Soto was the youngest of the three - but the one with the most major league experience. There was no sophomore slump for him as he played 150 games and hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 homers, 110 runs and 110 RBIs as the Nationals overcame a poor start to make the postseason, and then advance to the World Series for the first time. He went 5 for 18 (.278) with a pair of homers in Washington's upset of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series. In Game 1 of the World Series against the Houston Astros on October 22nd, he became the fourth youngest player to hit a homer in the Fall Classic after Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera and Mickey Mantle with a long drive off the railroad tracks at Minute Maid Park against Gerrit Cole, and later drove in two more runs with a double off the left-field wall to lead his team to a 5-4 win. He went 9 for 27 (.333) with 2 doubles and 3 homers, scoring 6 runs and driving in 7 as the Nationals defeated the Astros in seven games.
He was slated to be the Nationals' starter in left field for the long delayed opening day game on July 23, 2020, but was scratched that morning when he tested positive for COVID-19. He was asymptomatic, but had to go into isolation until such time as tests came back negative. He only made his debut on August 5th, but made up for lost time by having an incredible two months, leading the National League in all three slash line categories: a .351 batting average, .490 on-base percentage and .695 slugging percentage in 47 games. As a result, he also had the best OPS at 1.185 and OPS+ at a mind-boggling 212. He slugged 14 doubles and 13 homers, scored 39 runs, drove in 37 and drew 41 walks. He was named the recipient of the Silver Slugger Award and finished 5th in the voting for the MVP Award, his low finish being entirely a function of the Nationals having a terrible year after their World Series conquest, missing expanded the postseason altogether.
He donated his 2021 All-Star earnings, about $200,000 to Dominican Olympic athletes, including in baseball, boxing and track and field. Former teammate Emilio Bonifacio, a Dominican Olympic baseball player, had suggested the charitable act.
- 2018 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
- NL All-Star (2021)
- NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2020)
- NL Batting Average Leader (2020)
- NL On-Base Percentage Leader (2020)
- NL Slugging Percentage Leader (2020)
- NL OPS Leader (2020)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 2 (2018 & 2019)
- 30-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2019)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (2019)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (2019)
- Won one World Series with the Washington Nationals in 2019
- Jamal Collier: "Looking back at Soto's historic teenage season", mlb.com, October 25, 2018. 
- Jamal Collier: "World is about to meet Nats' 20-year-old phenom: Fall Classic stage is a perfect platform for Soto's talents", mlb.com, October 21, 2019. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Why Nationals teen phenom Juan Soto may be here to stay", USA Today Sports, June 14, 2018. 
- Sarah Langs: "21 facts for Juan Soto's 21st birthday", mlb.com, October 25, 2019. 
- Sarah Langs: "Juan Soto is even better than you think he is", mlb.com, February 21, 2020. 
- Mike Petriello: "This young star is the next Ted Williams", mlb.com, December 5, 2020. 
- Mike Petriello: "Soto rivaling all-time greats with 1 key trait: Nationals star walked 30.3% of time in August", mlb.com, August 31, 2021. 
- Tom Schad: "Nationals phenom Juan Soto thinks mastering English will help him become one of baseball's best", USA Today, May 9, 2019.