Juan Soto was scheduled to spend the 2018 season in the minor leagues, allowing him time to develop as a player. Instead, the 19-year-old played only 39 games in the minors before injuries to outfielders Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick and Brian Goodwin, forced the Nationals to call him up. Soto was only supposed to stay on the major league roster until one of those three could return from the disabled list. But instead, he has emerged as one of the best young players in the league.
On May 20, Juan Soto made his MLB debut in the eighth inning against the Dodgers as a pinch hitter. He ended up striking out, but Soto would soon recover from this. The next day he made his first start and on the first pitch, slammed a three-run home run off the Padres. His home run helped him surpass Bryce Harper to become the youngest player in franchise history to hit a home run. Soto’s dominance would continue as he hit three home runs in five at-bats against the New York Yankees.
The All-Star break allowed him to rest and prepare for the grueling second half. He came out of the break on fire as he was able to continue to display of impressive power. Soto homered off the Braves the first game after the break. For the season Soto has hit 10 home runs with 31 RBIs.
On May 15, the Nationals and Yankees game was suspended due to rain tied at 3-3. The game would be continued on June 18. Juan Soto came up to bat in the continuation of the game and hit a home run. Even though he made his first appearance on May 20, according to MLB rules, the stats of a continued game are recorded from the original date of play. Soto’s sixth home run is recorded in the history books as before his major league debut. Juan Soto traveled back in time to become the sixth player in MLB history to appear in a suspended game before being called up.
Rookie of the Year Consideration
Through the All-Star break, Juan Soto is one of the front-runners for the National League Rookie of the Year. In 187 at-bats Soto has a slash line of .310/.419/.540 and an impressive OPS of .959. Some analysts believed Soto was snubbed from the All-Star game. His brilliant play has brought him into the spotlight and if he continues on his path, multiple All-Star appearances could easily be in his future.
Soto’s main competition for the award is the Miami Marlins outfielder and third basemen, Brian Anderson. The 25-year-old has a slash line of .285/.365/.419 and an OPS of .784 in 396 at bats. While Soto has better numbers, he has played in far fewer games than Anderson. It will be a close competition between the two and an impressive race that will be fun to keep an eye on. Both are deserving of the award but if Soto keeps up his impressive numbers, he should be able to beat out Anderson.
The Soto/Harper Decision
Bryce Harper is a free agent at the end of the season and many predict that he will not return. While Nationals fans are hopeful he re-signs, the future is not as bleak as it once was. Juan Soto has proven that he can handle his own against the best. Before the season, the question was: What would the Nationals do if Harper signed elsewhere?
Now with Soto in the mix, fans can finally breathe. The 19-year-old is the answer the team was looking for. Soto will not be eligible for free agency till 2024, leaving the Nationals six years with their new stud outfielder. This will give the team time to help him improve his defensive skills that he has not been able to work on because he is so young. Soto has proved that he can help replace Harper’s bat in the lineup.
Feature Image from USA Today and SB Nation