Two seasons into his MLB career, Juan Soto, who turns 21 later this month, has hit a total of 57 doubles and 56 home runs in the regular season, with a combined .287./.403/.535 line in 3.7 and 4.8 fWAR campaigns for the Washington Nationals.
He was asked before Game 5 of the NLDS how life has changed since he signed for $1.5M as a 16-year-old in July of 2015 out of the Dominican Republic.
“I mean, it’s amazing,” Soto told reporters in Dodger Stadium before taking on Los Angeles.
“Everything changed,” he added. “Everything. My family, the fans, and all the stuff, it’s crazy and everything like that. But for me I think it’s amazing. And the teams we had this year and last year, just blessed. I feel blessed.”
Soto finished his first two seasons tied for second in MLB history in homers before a player’s 21st birthday, with his 56, matching the Boston Red Sox’ Tony Conigliaro’s 56 in 1964-1965, behind only the New York Giants’ Mel Ott’s 61 between 1926-1930, and Soto was ranked first all-time in walks before a 21st birthday, with 187, passing Ott’s 179.
Soto turns 21 on October 25, 2019.
Going into last night’s matchup with the Dodgers, he was 4 for 18 with a home run in his first five postseason games. Had he taken a moment, to soak it all in, look at the crowds, and reflect on everything in his first October run?
“For me it’s every day I come to the field,” Soto said.
“Every day I see the crowd I’m like, that’s amazing. You can play the whole year in the big leagues and it’s never going to be the same.
“When you see that crowd like that and enjoy it, and cheering for you and all this stuff, for me it’s amazing every day.”
Soto also talked, when asked before Game 5 of the NLDS, about his preternatural calm at the plate.
“For me I just think it’s a fight, just the pitcher and me,” Soto said of his thought process when he steps to the plate. “I forget about everybody that’s around me.
“I just think of the pitcher and me and look for one pitch and get my confidence like I’ve been doing all this stuff and try to enjoy the moment, I think that’s the key.”
He also does that shuffle/shuffle/adjust thing after taking pitches to reset in the batter’s box.
“That started in the minor leagues,” Soto explained. “I like to get in the minds of the pitchers because sometimes they get scared. In the minor leagues some pitchers get scared, they say, ‘Oh, wow,’ because they never see that before. I just try to get in their minds and all this stuff.”
He’s also able to make contact and barrel the ball up in a way that’s impressed everyone who’s watched him on his way up and throughout his first two big league campaigns.
“For me it’s been since my first year in the minor leagues,” he said when asked how he’s developed his swing, and the ability to barrel it up.
“I used to swing at everything, whatever the ball comes and if I see it good, I just swing at it. But then my coaches start telling me, ‘Hey, you got to look for one pitch, just try to look for one pitch and stay in the zone until you have two strikes.’ It don’t matter if they call you, then they call you three times to strike you out. So just wait for the pitch and stay in the zone, try to don’t chase the ball out and stuff. And that’s how everything started.
“Just started looking for one pitch, where what I think that they’re going to throw me and stay there. It don’t matter if they throw me curveballs and other stuff, I take them until two strikes. And then two strikes you got to make it a little bigger and try to fight.”
Soto got hold of one pitch from Clayton Kershaw in the top of the eighth on Friday night, hitting a game-tying home run that knotted things up at 3-3 before Howie Kendrick’s 10th inning grand slam put the Nationals up 7-3 on the Dodgers.
Anthony Rendon hit one out in the at bat before Soto stepped in, taking a 1-0 fastball to left-center to make it a 3-2 game before Soto’s blast.
“For me, it’s amazing,” Soto said of watching Rendon’s home run from the on-deck circle, when he spoke with MASN’s Bob Carpenter in the clubhouse after the win, which earned the Nationals a spot in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“When I see him hit the homer I feel really good, I think he [made it close], their lead, and I just said, ‘We’re going. We’re going now.’”
It went 449 feet to center, so it’s safe to say Soto knew his home run was gone on contact.
“When I hit it I knew I hit it really good, but I didn’t know it was going to be that far,” Soto said.
And hitting a game-tying, eighth-inning home run off Kershaw, in Game 5 of the NLDS, as a 20-year-old in the big leagues?
“It’s crazy,” Soto laughed.
“When I go and face this guy, I know he’s really good, I just think I wait for the miss, and you feel really good when you hit the ball like that, important to tie the game.”