“There was a method to Davey [Martinez’s] madness last year when he put [Juan Soto] into right field for the last couple of games of the season to see how he would adhere to that,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in mid-December, before Washington signed left fielder Kyle Schwarber to a 1-year/$10M free agent deal.
The signing of Schwarber means Soto’s moving across the outfield to the corner spot he played in the minors before he moved to left field upon being called up in 2018.
Soto’s history and comfort-level in right field gave the Nationals options as they surveyed the market and searched for a corner outfielder/middle of the order bat this winter.
“[It’s a] position [Soto has] played in the past,” Rizzo explained as the offseason search began in earnest earlier this winter.
“I think we’re versatile in the fact that it doesn’t have to be strictly a right fielder or strictly a left fielder, but a corner outfielder that complements the lineup or a first baseman would be the smoothest transition because those are positions of need, but with that said you can get creative and get a bat in all sorts of different ways, and with a little maneuvering we’d feel comfortable doing it in all sorts of different creative ways.”
After acquiring Josh Bell from Pittsburgh’s Pirates in a late December trade, the Nationals added Schwarber, giving the club two middle-of-the-order bats who did struggle during this past year’s 2020 COVID campaign, but have hit for power in the recent past.
The addition of the now-former Chicago Cubs’ catcher-turned-outfielder means that it will be Soto in right field in 2021.
Soto, 22, said late this past season he felt comfortable out in right after Martinez put him there over the final week.
“It’s been really nice to be out there again and try to feel like my first year, rookie ball. It feels really good right now,” Soto told reporters in late September.
The young outfielder said he didn’t think there were many changes he needed to make as he adjusted to right vs left field.
“I just try to read the ball well and that’s it. Try to read the ball well back there and try to make good decisions.”
“The short time that he was in the minor leagues, that’s where he played, right field,” Soto’s manager, Davey Martinez, said in an MLB Network Radio interview this past weekend, “and we’ve had conversations throughout his short career about moving. It’s funny because, I always tell him during batting practice just to go out there and shag balls from center field and work on your jumps in center field, more balls are hit up the middle of the field during batting practice, and work on your footwork and learn how to play all three positions, and he’s very good at doing that.”
An opportunity to get Soto some reps in game action presented itself late last season, when Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending hand injury, so with the 2020-21 free agent market in mind, Martinez said, they decided to move the outfielder.
“When I talked to him after Adam Eaton got hurt, I called [Soto] in my office and I said, ‘Hey, how would you like to play right field?’
“And he looked at me and he said, ‘I love it. Let’s do it,’” Martinez recounted.
“So put him over there and he looked very comfortable, we talked a lot about it, and he talked to me at the end of the year about possibly staying over there, he felt really good about it, and I said, ‘Look, I’m all for it.’
“We’ll keep working at it and I think he’s going to be a very good right fielder. As you know, he worked really hard to be a really good left fielder, so I’m very confident that he’ll make the transition and do well there.”