Juan Soto, who turns 20 on this week (October 25th), finished his first season in the majors ranked second among all teenagers in major league history in home runs with the 22 he hit in 116 games and 494 plate appearances, which were the most since Washington Nationals teammate Bryce Harper hit 22 in 2012. They were the second-most, behind only the Boston Red Sox’ Tony Conigliario, who hit 24 in 444 PAs in 1964.
Soto also finished the season ranked fourth in RBIs (70) by a teenage major leaguer, and first in walks (79).
Among all National League hitters (with a minimum of 490 PAs), Soto ranked second in on-base percentage (.406 OBP), third in OPS (.923), and 12th in batting average (.292 AVG).
He also hit 25 doubles and scored 77 runs, finishing the year with 145 wRC+ in a 3.7 fWAR campaign, and finishing strong with a .283/.383/.525 line, six doubles and six home runs over his final his final 115 plate appearances in September.
Among NL rookies, Soto was ranked first in OBP, OPS, RBIs, walks, walk percentage (16.0 BB%), wOBA (.392), and wRC+, and finished second in SLG (.517), home runs, AVG, fWAR, and OPS+ (142).
“He’s been outstanding since we got him on Day 1,” Davey Martinez told reporters after Soto went 2 for 4 with a double, home run, a walk, two runs scored, and four RBIs in the next-to-last game of the season.
“Like I’ve said,” Martinez added, “his maturity for a 19-year-old is beyond his years, and he’s only going to get better. I really believe that, because he’s so passionate about the game.
“He loves the game. He loves to play.”
Soto even allowed his manager to lift him from a game before the bottom of the ninth in a 12-2 win over the Colorado Rockies, which was a big step for a player who never wanted to sit or come out of the lineup.
“I took him out the last inning, and he wanted to finish the game,” Martinez explained, “and I said, ‘Can I please take you out just one time?’ And he said, ‘Okay.’
“But I love being with him, I love being at the ballpark and having conversations with him, I mean, he’s fun to be around.”
Watching Soto pass baseball legends like Mel Ott and and Mickey Mantle on the list of the teenagers with the most homers in MLB history, Martinez acknowledged, was impressive.
“Those are big names and definitely,” Martinez said in September.
“Here’s a kid that we didn’t expect to be up here so early, and to do the things that he’s doing is pretty incredible, and those names that you just mentioned, to be categorized with some of those names is pretty awesome.”
Soto received the opportunity to come up and make his MLB debut in mid-May, when the Nationals were shorthanded following a season-ending achilles injury to Howie Kendrick.
“He’s been a blessing for us all year long,” Martinez said as the season wound down and the other top outfield prospect in the organization, Victor Robles, joined Soto in the majors.
“Like I said, just watching him play, and watching Robles now, they’re just out there having fun and playing the game the right way and I love it.”
“It’s reminiscent of watching Tony Gwynn growing up, really,” Stephen Strasburg told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“It’s just that extra edge of, as soon as the pitcher is releasing the ball just seeing if it’s a ball or strike immediately. And never really being off-balance, never really being fooled on a pitch. It’s been impressive.”
Soto put himself in the discussion for the NL Rookie of the Year, though the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuña, Jr. might edge him out in that race.
Acuña finished first in most of the categories that Soto didn’t lead and second in several of the ones Soto led, and did so for a division-winner, which could give him an advantage.
“I’m going to be really excited and really proud of myself if I win that award,” Soto told MASN’s Dan Kolko towards the end of the 2018 campaign.
“You’re talking about two premier young players going at it,” Martinez said of the ROY race.
“And they’re both good players. Of course I’m biased to Soto after watching him play all year, every day, and what he does and what he brings to us, I mean, he’s unbelievable, he really is. And I’m sure they can say about Acuña, but it’s going to be interesting, like I said, they’re both having great years and they’re going to be fun to watch for a lot of years.”