Juan Soto’s power is impressive, yes. Washington’s 19-year-old left fielder has hit 15 home runs in 187 plate appearances across four levels in the Nationals’ organization this season, starting at Low-A Hagerstown and rising all the way to the majors with his power on display at each stop, but it’s his plate discipline and patience that have set him apart.
“The biggest thing is — when I saw him in Spring Training, the few times I saw him — is his approach at the plate,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, after Soto was called up this weekend.
“His willingness to take his walks. Really his game awareness in the box. He’s really good. That allows him to have the at-bats that he’s had. I think he’s going to be fine up here, I really do. I talked to him earlier. I told him nothing changes. Take your walks. Get pitches in the strike zone. Just be yourself.”
“That’s probably the biggest reason that he is here,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said. “It’s hard to take a young talent, that free-swinging 19-year-old, and bring him to the big leagues. I’ve had the opportunity to bring several 19-year-old players to the big leagues and they had one thing in common: They knew the strike zone. They weren’t wild swingers and controlled their at-bats.”
Soto walked more than he K’d in the minors on his way up this season, taking 29 free passes to 28 strikeouts, with a .486 OBP in 74 PAs at Low-A Hagerstown, a .466 OBP in 73 PAs with the High-A Potomac Nationals, and a .400 OBP in 35 PAs at Double-A Harrisburg before he was promoted.
In his second major league start, and third game with the Nationals on Tuesday night, Soto walked in each of his first two plate appearances, taking eight straight pitches from Padres’ left-hander Eric Lauer. He singled on an 0-1 curve from the southpaw in the sixth, then walked again to lead off the ninth on four consecutive balls from left-handed reliever Matt Strahm.
Soto moved into scoring position on a groundout by Wilmer Difo, then scored on Michael A. Taylor’s walk-off double to give the Nationals a 2-1 win.
Martinez was asked after the Nationals’ second straight win about the Padres’ approach against the rookie slugger.
“You know what, Soto has a very good eye, and he stays in the strike zone,” Martinez said.
“Which ... the more at bats we see the more you really like him, because he does do that, and getting those walks today was huge.”
Taking a four-pitch walk in the ninth, when a hitter with his power could potentially win it with one swing was even more impressive, Martinez said.
“He’s up there 3-0, we gave him the green light, and he took a pretty good pitch, and he took it, so that’s pretty good to see, he knows the strike zone pretty well.”
Did Soto have the green light in all of the 3-0 counts he found himself in?
“He’s got the green light,” Martinez laughed.
“I don’t not like guys not hitting, you work counts, and when you get to 3-0, if the matchup is really good, I want those guys to swing.”
Soto was asked how tough it was to stay patient and take all three walks, and the 12 straight balls he saw in those plate appearances.
“Not much,” Soto said.
“Because I just know the strike zone, and the umpires are better here, so I take advantage of that. I know they didn’t want to throw me a pitch to hit too hard, so maybe I’ll just be patient and see my pitch.”