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Will Juan Soto stay with Washington Nationals when/if the Nats get healthy?

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Juan Soto is up to play every day-ish while he’s in the majors, but will he stay in Washington once the Nationals get healthy?

San Diego Padres v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Juan Soto struck out in a pinch hit appearance in his MLB debut, went 2 for 4 with a home run and single in his first major league start, and 1 for 1 with three walks and the winning run in his third game after getting the call to the big leagues this past weekend. He got off to a really good start in the majors. He really did.

“He’s got a terrific approach at the plate,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies when asked for a scouting report on the 19-year-old outfielder during his weekly visit with the Junkies on Wednesday morning.

“Very balanced attack,” Rizzo added.

“He’s got great bat speed, he’s got a natural loft to his left-handed swing, but the thing that really separates him from a lot of players is his knowledge of the strike zone.”

Soto has a very good eye,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said after Soto’s three-walk night on Tuesday, “and he stays in the strike zone, 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.”

San Diego Padres v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Going up against veteran right Tyson Ross, and his filthy slider, Soto went 0 for 3 with two Ks in his first three PAs in the finale with the San Diego Padres on Wednesday afternoon.

Soto K’d swinging through a fastball the second time up and a slider in his third trip to the plate after flying out to left in his first plate appearance.

Left-handed closer Brad Hand was on the mound when Soto stepped up for the fourth time with one out in the eighth inning and grounded out to the mound on a 1-2 fastball, leaving him 0 for 4, 2 Ks.

There will, of course, be days like Wednesday, and Soto was hardly the only one to struggle against Ross.

“[Ross’s] slider was really good. Super good. Both sides of the plate,” Martinez said after the 3-1 loss.

Before the third of three with the Padres in D.C., Rizzo talked at length about what the future holds for Soto, when/if the Nationals get healthy. Is he up to stay?

“Performance dictates if he’s here to stay or not,” Rizzo said.

“This kid is 19 years old, it’s been a meteoric rise through our minor league system. Johnny DiPuglia, our Vice President of International Baseball, and I scouted and signed [Soto] when he was 16 and a half years old. He was injured most of last year, didn’t get a lot of at bats. We started him at Low-A Hagerstown [this season], we figured he would run through that league pretty good and then sent him to Potomac and he earned a promotion there to Double-A, which is really a testing spot for a 19-year-old player, and kind of really separates the prospects from the suspects, if you will, and for the 30 at bats or so that he had down there, looked very, very comfortable, didn’t look overmatched, was actually overmatching the league.

“Then Howie [Kendrick] went down in that Dodgers series, we felt that we wanted to get something that was an offensive force for us, something that could jumpstart us, you throw that youth and exuberance into the lineup and the other players feed off him, so when Howie was injured I called our Farm Director Doug Harris and Mark Sciallabba, and said, ‘Get Soto moving this way, he’s going to join the club and stay with the club,’ and we’re going to play him. The deal that Davey [Martinez] and I had was that if we call this special kid up, he’s not going to be off the bench, he’s not going to spell, he’s going to play just about every day, because he’s earned that right and for his development, even though he’s developing in the big leagues, he needs to play every day.”

Will Soto stay when/if Adam Eaton and Brian Goodwin are back? Would the Nationals bump Michael A. Taylor to make room? There could be some tough decisions ahead, but for now, the top healthy outfield prospect in the organization (with Victor Robles still out of action with after hyperextending his elbow), is going to take his at bats in the majors and he’ll have an opportunity to prove he’s now where he belongs.

His discipline at the plate, which Rizzo and Martinez both have said made them comfortable giving Soto this shot, has been obvious even to those who’ve only seen a small sample size of at bats in the majors.

“He very rarely swings at pitches off the plate and out of the zone and we thought that that was really the most important thing to bring him up where he wouldn’t be overmatched at the major league level,” Rizzo explained.

His three walk game was reportedly the first by a teenager in the majors since Bryce Harper in 2012, and before that Robin Yount.. in 1975.

“That’s a good group,” Rizzo said. “Two hitters that really know the strike zone and rarely go outside of it when they attack pitches and I think that’s why you see Juan for his very short minor league career, he hit at high averages at each level, and as you guys know, the umpiring at the lower levels is not nearly as good as it is in the upper levels, so when he was striking out at minor league level it was usually the umpires calling him out on pitches that in the big leagues would be balls but in the minor leagues were strikes.

“We felt comfortable bringing him up, he’s a kid mature beyond his years, he’s got a great routine to prepare himself for a game, his studying and game prep and film prep is again, beyond his years, and he’s a special talent. Offensively, like I said, he was very polished and very mature. He’ll be learning the rest of the game on the fly at the big league level at 19 years old, which is no picnic, but the nuances of defense and baserunning and that type of thing, but we’ve got guys taking him under his wing. Bryce Harper has taken responsibility to handle a fellow 19-year-old in the big leagues and show him the ropes, if you will, and his teammates really have embraced him and the energy level that he brings, you can tell, it’s been great.”