Juan Soto’s four-hit, two-double game in the series finale with the Miami Marlins on Monday night in the nation’s capital left Washington’s 21-year-old slugger with a .400/.487/.815 line, six doubles, and seven home runs in 18 games and 76 plate appearances this season, over which the Nationals’ middle of the order bat had walked 10 times and struck out 10 times.
Soto has been smoking the ball when he does make contact too, with his average 96.5 MPH exit velocity, good for fourth among all major league hitters heading into Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia’s Phillies, and his barrels per plate appearance percentage (14.5% - Brls/PA%) ranked as the third-highest amongst all major league hitters.
Is barreling or squaring up the ball something that Soto has focused on as he’s worked on his hitting in the cage or in batting practice?
Soto was asked as much in Monday night’s post-game Zoom call.
“For me, just try to hit the ball on the barrel,” Soto said, simplifying all the data points.
“Every time I go to the plate, try to hit the ball on the barrel, and try to look for a pitch to do damage. No trying to go out of the zone for one pitch, just trying to look for that specific pitch, if they don’t throw me that pitch, wait.
“And that’s how I get it right now. I just try to look for a specific pitch and I try to do damage with it.”
Soto’s discipline at the plate is what GM Mike Rizzo talked about repeatedly as he explained the decision to call the then-19-year-old outfielder up to the big leagues back in 2018.
“He’s got a terrific approach at the plate,” Rizzo said at the time. “Very balanced attack. 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. 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.”
Soto. has. not. been. overmatched. His .400 AVG on the season makes that clear. Right now he’s locked in.
“Right now, I feel really good,” Soto said on Monday. “I feel really good. I’m seeing the ball really well. I just been working a lot. I’ve been working a lot, and all the work is coming out right now. It feels good to be up there, but if the team doesn’t win, it isn’t working, so we’ve got to find a way to keep helping the team, keep playing defense, and everything.”
Soto’s focus on not only his own success, but the overall success of the team is something his manager, Davey Martinez, pointed to when he discussed Soto’s postgame comments a day after the outfielder made them.
“He’s a very humble kid as we all know, and he does truly believe that — he believes in his teammates,” Martinez said.
“He wants to win, he loves to win, all aside, his No. 1 focus is to help us win as many games as possible.
“Always known that about him since Day 1. He loves to win, he loves to do good, not just for himself, but for his teammates.”
Martinez also responded to a question about Soto’s comment about going up to the plate looking for one specific pitch and waiting for opposing pitchers to throw it.
“Up till you get to two strikes, you’re looking for that one pitch you know you can hit hard,” Martinez explained.
“And then — why he’s so special — is that if you watch him with two strikes, he hits the ball really hard, still. Like I said, he has a great awareness of the strike zone. He’s not afraid to hit with two strikes and that takes a special hitter. It doesn’t bother him at all when he goes up there and he’s waiting for that pitch and all of a sudden he’s got two strikes on him and he’s up there battling to get that hit. He’s really good at it, but with that being said, you watch him, typically when he gets that pitch that he’s been looking for he’s been hitting it hard. His exit velo has been incredible this year. So I hope he continues to do that. Like I said, my biggest thing with him, sometimes if he starts trying to pull the ball too much he gets in a little trouble, so but he’s been really consistent about staying in the middle of the field, which is nice.”
“He had one day or two days where he was pulling off a little bit,” Martinez said on Monday night, “and he got right back to it in batting practice, to wearing out left-center field.
“When he does that, I know he’s going to start swinging better, and he starts trying to hit everything to right-center, left-center.
“Today, he pulled the ball and I talked to him about it, and he said, ‘I wasn’t even trying to pull that ball.’ But that goes to show you what his thought process is when he’s hitting.”