Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.5M as a 16-year-old in 2015, Juan Soto played in the Gulf Coast and New York/Penn Leagues in 2016, posting a combined .368/.420/.553 line with 14 doubles and five home runs as a 17-year-old in his first professional season.
He only played in 32 games in 2017, as injuries (ankle/hamate bone/hamstring) limited him to 123 plate appearances, but when he was on the field, the 18-year-old outfielder put up a combined .351/.415/.505 line with six doubles and three home runs.
FBB: How did you pick your walk-up music? Ceky Viciny - A Po Ta Loco - [ed note - “Which has totally grown on us, probably because it’s usually followed by great at bats/hits.”]
Juan Soto: “I just like that music, and the beat, that’s why I picked it.”
In spite of the injuries in 2017, the left-handed hitting outfielder’s name came up as the Nationals tried to pry J.T. Realmuto away from Miami, with the Marlins’ ask reportedly a package involving either or possibly both of the Nats’ top outfield prospects (Soto/Victor Robles plus more) in return for the impressive and controllable catcher, who never was dealt in the end.
FBB: Have you explored Washington, D.C. at all? Any particular places you like?
Soto: “No, I just come from my house to the stadium. Sometimes I just walk a little bit and I go with the guys around here and the stadium, and I go back.”
FBB: Not interested in exploring or no time to do so?
Soto: “I don’t have too much time for it.”
FBB: How about all the minor league cities (Hagerstown, Woodbridge-Potomac, and Harrisburg)? How do they compare to where you lived growing up in the Dominican Republic and now Washington, D.C.?
Soto: ”For me it’s kind of the same. The same thing. I just go around and walk a little bit, and there’s nice people here.”
Rizzo wasn’t budging on parting ways with either Soto or Robles, however, and when there was a need in the outfield, Soto got the call early this season (with Robles unavailable after hyperextending his elbow on a play in the outfield with Triple-A Syracuse).
In 39 games and 182 at bats between Low-A Hagerstown, High-A Potomac, and Double-A Harrisburg, Soto had a .362/.462/.757 line with 10 doubles and 14 homers before the Nats reached down for the 19-year-old in mid-May.
FBB: How about your favorite road ballpark and your favorite city you’ve traveled to so far?
Soto: “Right now, I’d say my favorite park right now is Atlanta. It’s a really nice park, new and everything. For the city, I like Philadelphia, that city is very good.”
FBB: Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez have talked about Bryce Harper helping you adjust to life in the majors, having done it himself as a 19-year-old. How has he helped you?
Soto: “He told me a lot about everything. He and [Adam] Eaton are the guys who showed me a lot of things I didn’t know how to work, and they helped me and I appreciate that.”
Everyone (or at least all the baseball fans) in Washington, D.C. has seen what he’s done in the four months since he debuted in the majors, putting himself in the discussion for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year (though there’s some serious competition).
Entering play on Friday night in the first game of the Nationals’ three-game set in Citi Field, Soto had a .287/.408/.512 line, with 18 doubles and 15 home runs in 83 games and 349 PAs as part of Washington’s big league lineup.
Soto’s advanced approach at the plate, which GM Mike Rizzo cited in explaining why he was comfortable calling him up at just 19 years old, was on display again this past homestand, in most of his plate appearances, but in his ninth inning battle against the Philadelphia Phillies’ closer Seranthony Dominguez on Wednesday night in particular.
FBB: What you miss about the Dominican Republic?:
Soto: “Right now it’s the food. My family is down there, and that’s all.”
FBB: So do you live here by yourself? Is anyone from your family up in D.C.?
Soto: “Nobody is here, I’m alone here. They were here, but then they left and now I’m here.”
FBB: How have you adjusted to living alone in D.C. at 19?:
Soto: “It’s hard to leave my family and everything, but I picked the profession and so I have to keep working and keep going.”
Soto was 1 for 4 with three strikeouts before he stepped in against the hard-throwing right-hander and fell behind 1-2 then took a 98 mph 1-2 fastball outside that was close, fouled off another 98 mph heater, and lined the sixth straight 98-99 mph fastball he saw to right field for a two-out, two-strike double that kept the inning alive for Ryan Zimmerman, who hit his 11th career walk-off home run in the next at bat.
Putting together that sort of at bat after striking out three times on the night before that? It impressed Zimmerman, who noted it won’t be the first three-strikeout game, adding that it’s about how you respond.
“He’ll do it again, a lot more, everyone will do it,” Zimmerman said.
FBB: You’ve really picked up English well, how were you able to so quickly?
Soto: “I just try to talk with my teammates ... I just started talking to my teammates they help me a lot.”
FBB: Have you watched American shows to help, pop culture stuff, or do you still watch shows from the DR?
Soto: “I just keep watching the tv shows from the Dominican, sometimes I watch movies from here, but most of the time I watch Dominican programs.”
“I think that shows you what kind of person and player he is to be able to do that,” Zimmerman added.
“Put those at bats behind him and grind out an at bat like that in a huge situation to give us a chance.
“He’s done that since he came up here, and if he doesn’t have that at bat, there’s no chance for me or anyone else behind me to do anything, so huge at bat for him.”
Soto’s approach in that at bat?
“It’s the same,” he said. “Look for the fastball and try to hit it with the barrel. I know the ball is going to jump because I hit the barrel.”
FBB: Have you been back to the Dominican Republic to visit your family since you moved to the U.S.?
Soto: “I go to the Dominican when the season is over. When the season is over I go down there and I stay.”
“Every day he shows me something what he does,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said. “He’s just smart young player. Even the bunts, running the bases, he pays attention, when he can steal, when he can’t. Just all the little things. He’s real smart. He pays attention to the game and he loves to play.”
“For me it’s just trying to put the ball in play and staying within himself,” Martinez added when asked about that at bat again in his pregame interview the next morning.
“He just wanted to get on base. You talked to him at the end of the game, he said I was just wanting to get on base and he did that. And to stay in the at bat and foul tough pitches off, and he hit a double there, that was awesome.”