Juan Soto

From BR Bullpen

Juan Jose Soto Pacheco
(The Childish Bambino)

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 6' 1", Weight 185 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

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 the expanded postseason altogether.

He donated his 2021 All-Star Game 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. He had another great season for an underperforming team in 2021, batting .313 in 151 games and leading the National League in both walks (145) and OBP (.465). Teams were obviously pitching around him as he was the main threat in an otherwise rather anemic Nats line-up. When de did get pitches to hit, he connected for 20 doubles and 29 homers, and drove in 95 runs in addition to scoring 111 times. He won a Silver Slugger Award for the second time and finished second in the MVP vote behind former teaamate Bryce Harper, now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

On April 12, 2022, he hit the 100th home run of his young career, becoming the 7th player to reach the mark at age 23 or younger, then on April 22nd, he got his 500th hit and once again he was only the 7th player to reach the mark at his age. He was getting the Barry Bonds treatmdent that season, as through 90 games, he was batting .250, but with a NL-leading 79 walks and an OBP of .406. He did have 17 doubles and 19 homers when teams dared pitch to him and was named to the All-Star team for the second time. However, on July 16th, it was reported that he had turned down a proposed contract extension from the Nationals that would have paid him $440 million over 15 years. This would have made it the largest contract ever in terms of total value, but only 29th in terms of average annual value. While Soto was not eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season, many speculated that his unwillingness to commit long-term to the team could lead to his being traded at a time when his value was likely to be as high as it would ever be. He did not let this upset him in the annual Home Run Derby, where he put on a dominating performance to claim the title, defeating rookie Julio Rodríguez in the final round. At 23, he missed being the youngest ever winner of the competition by just one day, after 1993 winner Juan Gonzalez. The anticipated trade did take place on August 2nd, at the trading deadline, and the team that was willing to shell out a boatload of prospects to add him was the San Diego Padres. Teammate Josh Bell joined him in heading to the West Coast, and in return the Nationals received six players: SS C.J. Abrams, P Mackenzie Gore, OF Robert Hassell, P Jarlin Susana, 1B Luke Voit and OF James Wood. 1B Eric Hosmer was originally announced in Voit's place, but he exercised his no-trade clause, not wanting to join a last-place team, but the substitution of Voit was acceptable to the Nationals and the deal went through. Soto was hitting .246 in 101 games at the time of the trade, with 21 homers and 46 RBIs, while leading the NL with 91 walks; his OPS+ was 159. His hitting went down after joining his new team, as he batted .236 in 52 games with 6 homers; his OPS+ was still excellent at 130, however. The Padres made it to the postseason and he went 11 for 46 in the three rounds that they played, with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 7 runs and 7 RBIs. Overall, the Padres were happy with his contributions and stated after their elimination from the postseason that they were looking to sign him to a long-term contract.

The Padres were unable to reach a long-term deal with Soto in the immediate, and instead agreed on a salary of $23 million for the 2023 season in January, thus avoiding arbitration. He had another fine season for San Diego, although as a team the Padres disappointed badly, getting off on the wrong foot in spite of their huge payroll, and never getting thing together until August, by which time it was too late to make a run for the postseason. Soto was arguably their best player, making the All-Star team for the third straight year and winning a fourth straight Silver Slugger Award. He finished at .275 as one of just two players to appear in all 162 games (the other was Matt Olson), had an OBP of .410 thanks to a league-leading 132 walks, scored 97 runs, hit 32 doubles and 35 homers and had 109 RBIs. His OPS+ was 158. Except for his absurdly good 2020 season when he played just 47 games, this was as good as he had ever been. Given the Padres inability to come to an agreement with him on a contract, rumors about a possible trade started as soon as the their season got off the rails, and continued until the winter meetings, when he was dealt to the New York Yankees on December 6th. It was obviously another blockbuster, with seven players changing uniforms: Soto was accompanied to the Big Apple by OF Trent Grisham, while heading to San Diego were Ps Mike King and Jhony Brito, C Kyle Higashioka and two minor leaguers in Drew Thorpe and Randy Vasquez. The Yankees had completely remade their outfield in a span of two days, as the acquisition of Soto and Grisham followed that of Alex Verdugo - with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton still on board as well. And with free agency beckoning for Soto at the end of the year, the Yankees still had to sign him to a long-term deal.

A long-term deal between Soto and the Yankees was not achievable in the immediate and on January 12, 2024, in order to avoid going through salary arbitration, the two sides agreed on a one-year deal worth $31 million, the biggest-ever deal of its type, eclipsing the record set a year earlier by Shohei Ohtani's $30 million deal.

Juan's younger brother, OF Elian Soto, signed his first pro contract with the Nationals during the January 2023 international signing period.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2018 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
  • 3-time NL All-Star (2021-2023)
  • 4-time NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2020-2023)
  • NL Batting Average Leader (2020)
  • 2-time NL On-Base Percentage Leader (2020 & 2021)
  • NL Slugging Percentage Leader (2020)
  • NL OPS Leader (2020)
  • 3-time NL Bases on Balls Leader (2021-2023)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 5 (2018, 2019 & 2021-2023)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 2 (2019 & 2023)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (2019 & 2023)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (2019 & 2021)
  • Won one World Series with the Washington Nationals in 2019

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jessica Camerato: "Soto the picture of positivity as Nats' leader: Phenom's enthusiasm for the game -- and fans -- a motivator", mlb.com, November 29, 2021. [1]
  • Jessica Camerato: "'I’m ready to go': Soto gearing up to build on stellar 2021 performance", mlb.com, March 14, 2022. [2]
  • Jessica Camerato: "'It just comes to me': Soto joins elite 100-HR club", mlb.com, April 13, 2022. [3]
  • Jessica Camerato: "Soto collects career hit No. 500: 'Happy to keep going'", mlb.com, April 23, 2022. [4]
  • Jessica Camerato: "Soto turned down $440M extension from Nats (source)", mlb.com, July 16, 2022. [5]
  • AJ Cassavell: "'Many years to come' for Soto in San Diego?", mlb.com, October 25, 2022. [6]
  • Jamal Collier: "Looking back at Soto's historic teenage season", mlb.com, October 25, 2018. [7]
  • 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. [8]
  • Bryan Hoch: "Yankees get Juan Soto in blockbuster trade with Padres", mlb.com, December 7, 2023. [9]
  • Bryan Hoch: "Soto 'more than excited' to be a Yankee. But for how long? Slugger talks goals and future with new team in introductory press conference", mlb.com, December 12, 2023. [10]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Why Nationals teen phenom Juan Soto may be here to stay", USA Today Sports, June 14, 2018. [11]
  • Bill Ladson: "Soto agrees to record-setting $31M deal to avoid arbitration with Yanks", mlb.com, January 12, 2024. [12]
  • Sarah Langs: "21 facts for Juan Soto's 21st birthday", mlb.com, October 25, 2019. [13]
  • Sarah Langs: "Juan Soto is even better than you think he is", mlb.com, February 21, 2020. [14]
  • Sarah Langs: "How Juan Soto can get even better in '22", mlb.com, March 28, 2022. [15]
  • Sarah Langs: "Here is why Soto is still projected as No. 1 hitter", mlb.com, February 19, 2023. [16]
  • Matt Monagan: "The making of Soto: Bottle caps, lefty rebirth and 20/15 vision", mlb.com, May 31, 2023. [17]
  • Mike Petriello: "This young star is the next Ted Williams", mlb.com, December 5, 2020. [18]
  • 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. [19]
  • Tom Schad: "Nationals phenom Juan Soto thinks mastering English will help him become one of baseball's best", USA Today, May 9, 2019. [20]
  • Juan Toribio: "Soto becomes 2nd-youngest Derby winner ... by a day", mlb.com, July 18, 2022. [21]

Related Sites[edit]