Juan Soto, at 22, is already an impressive, if not complete, player, with a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, an NL batting title* (which probably deserves an * since it was for 2020’s COVID-affected, 60-game 2020 campaign), and a Silver Slugger award on his resume three years into his big league career. He’s a preternaturally-gifted hitter, with some advanced awareness of the strike zone, who’s put in work to improve defensively as well, (though all the Nationals’ outfielder’s defensive metrics in 2020 were ugly), but there are still areas of his game he could stand to improve as Davey Martinez told reporters over the last week of the regular season this past September.
“He’s learned a lot,” Martinez said when he was asked about the growth he’s seen from Soto during their time together in the nation’s capital.
The third-year skipper said that while he’s not a plus runner by any stretch, Soto can learn to run the bases well enough to turn it into a strength.
Soto finished at -0.5 BsR in the 2020 campaign, with Fangraphs noting that, BsR is an “all- encompassing baserunning statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other baserunning plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average.”
That was 45th among qualified MLB outfielders last season, and in the last full season in ‘19, Soto finished at the same -0.5 BsR, good for 36th.
“If you watch him — we talked yesterday during the game and he was on first base, situation arose where I wanted him to attempt to steal,” Martinez explained.
“But I didn’t want to give him the sign, I wanted him to feel comfortable going on his own, and I wanted to watch what he did. He finally did go, and he did it on his own.”
It was one of six stolen bases (in eight opportunities) for Soto in 2020, who stole five bases in seven attempts as a rookie and 12 in 13 attempts in his sophomore season.
“I thought that was great,” Martinez added. “That he’s actually learning who he is, when he can steal bases, when he can’t steal bases, knowing situations, and he’s learning that.
“We talk a lot about it, but he’s actually doing it and it’s fun to watch him.
“He’s grown in so many ways, what I want him to start learning now, is the baserunning part of it. I told him, I said, you don’t have to be fast to be a really good baserunner.”
Martinez’s example of someone who is not fast by any means, but is, in the manager’s mind, a good baserunner, was catcher Kurt Suzuki.
“I watch Suzuki,” Martinez said. “If you ever watch Suzuki take his secondary leads, he’s the best in the game. I mean this guy takes unbelievable secondary leads, and I try to tell all of our young guys, watch him when he’s on the base, and particularly on second base, and watch how aggressive his secondary leads are.
“You would think that he’d get picked off, but he never does. So just keep an eye on that, because he’s really good at that. But he understands, that’s what he needs to do — he understands he doesn’t have the speed to outrun the baseball, but he knows he has to get a good jump in order to score from second base. Those are the little things I want these guys to understand and moving forward we need to get better at.”
Going into the offseason, Soto said baserunning was on the list of things he wanted to work on as he prepared for the 2021 campaign.
“For me it’s like every offseason, try to improve a little bit more in every spot,” Soto said over the final week of the season. “So, in my running, defense, hitting, whatever. Try to improve a little bit every time. But mostly my body, just try to keep my body in shape and try to be strong and ready to go to come next year and be ready to play the whole season next year.”