In 2020, for the first time since World War II, Major League Baseball did not hold an All-Star Game, so instead they decided to choose an All-MLB Team recognizing outstanding players in the 60-game COVID campaign, and Washington Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto was one of three outfielders to make the “First Team” outfield, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts and the LA Angels’ Mike Trout. Solid company.
“Limited to 47 games due to a positive COVID-19 test just before the team’s opener,” MLB’s Anthony Castrovince noted in his write-up on the selections, “...Soto made up for lost time with an NL-best .351 average and MLB-best 1.185 OPS in his age-21 season.”
As we’ve noted in several articles on Soto’s 2020 campaign, his .351 AVG, which earned an NL batting title, was the second-highest in the majors, and the Nationals’ left fielder also put up the highest wOBA (.478), highest wRC+ (200), the fifth-most walks (41 vs 28 Ks), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in the 47 games he played and the 196 plate appearances he had, after starting late following a positive test for COVID-19 on the morning of the season opener.
Soto said over the final weekend of the season that his patience at the plate was the thing he was proudest of when he assessed his campaign.
“I’ve been really proud about being patient and taking my walks,” he explained, “because they’ve been walking me a lot.
“Sometimes it’s really tough. Most of the time when you get a 3-1 count, ready to go, and they walk you intentionally.
“Just try to keep my mind down and prepare for my moment, forget about the walks and everything, just try to keep in one spot and try to do the adjustment to go to the next at bat, and go at bat to at bat.”
It’s not something opposing teams (and pitchers in particular) want to hear, but Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said that Soto, who just turned 22 this past October, is just now scratching the surface of what he’s capable of doing.
“You haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure. I mean, he’s going to continue to get better in all aspects of the game. You’re talking about not only a potential MVP this year, but for many, many years,” Martinez told reporters.
“He’s good, he’s really good, and like I said, he wants to get better.”
So, with an NL batting title at 21, Soto’s the youngest player to win a batting title (albeit in a 60-game season), and he’s drawing comparison’s to Ted Williams over on Fangraphs.
What’s next? A triple crown (leading a league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs)?
“You never know, maybe,” Soto said in an appearance on the MLB Network on Wednesday night. “I hope so. I’m going to keep grinding, man, you never know.”
In comments that are sure to please his manager, Davey “Hit it up the Middle” Martinez, Soto told the MLB Network hosts that when it comes to hitting for average or power, he tends to focus on hitting for average.
“It’s really tough,” Soto said. “I really focus more to hit for average, just try to get the ball in play, put the ball in play as much as I can. I work really hard in the offseason for my power, so I know the power is going to be there, and I just try to put the ball in play and try to help my team.”
As for his approach at the plate? Is he a launch angle proponent? Does he take a see it and hit it mentality into his at bats?
“I try to tell the kids don’t try the launch angle,” Soto said.
“I don’t really like the launch angle, I like more get on the top of the ball, and try to do the backspin to the ball, if you get on top of the ball and you get that backspin, the ball is going to fly, so that’s my mindset for the practice and everything, and after, when I go to the game, I’m just thinking, ‘See it and hit it.’ I try to be perfect in practice, try to get on top of the ball, hit the ball to the other way, middle, other way, and then in the game just see it and hit it.”
Check out the full interview HERE. And here’s a clip from the MLB Network’s Twitter feed: