Juan Jose Soto Pacheco
- 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.
- Gabe Lacques: "Why Nationals teen phenom Juan Soto may be here to stay", USA Today Sports, June 14, 2018.