Davey Martinez told reporters late this past September that as good as Juan Soto has been in his first three seasons in the majors, the recently-turned 22-year-old outfielder, who won the National League batting title in 2020’s 60-game campaign, still has plenty of room for improvement in his game and the determination to improve on his already-impressive and unique talent.
“You haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Martinez said. Asked this winter what he saw as the slugger’s ceiling, the manager in the nation’s capital declined to put any sort of limits on what he thinks Soto can accomplish, instead talking about the finer aspects of the game that they can focus on going forward.
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“Right now I don’t want to put a ceiling on him,” Martinez explained after Soto finished the 2020 campaign with the highest average in the National League (.351; 2nd-highest in the majors), MLB’s top OBP, (.490), highest SLG (.695), highest wOBA (.478), highest wRC+ (200), fifth-most walks (41), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in the 47 games he played and the 196 plate appearances he made, after starting late following a positive test for COVID-19 on the morning of the season opener.
“I mean ... he’s getting better and better every time I see him, every time he steps on the field,” Soto’s manager added.
Martinez talked this season and again in mid-December, about baserunning being one area of focus for Soto and the Nationals’ coaches as they try to fine-tune his skills.
“I sat back and watched the way he played and how intuitive he is,” Martinez said, “... and when I say that is — this guy wants to steal 25-30 bases one year. And if you watch him, he studies pitchers. He goes in there, right now he understands when he needs to steal and when he doesn’t need to steal and he wants to get better at it. I messed around with him last year and I said, ‘How do you feel about playing right field?’ And he said, ‘I love it.’ He said, ‘That’s my favorite position.’ And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he says, ‘If you need me to play center field I can do that too.’ So this kid just loves the game, he wants to play and he wants to get better. I talked to him a lot this year about how he felt at the plate and what he learned about himself and his idea was he wants to get better with two strikes. And he’s pretty good. But he said, ‘I want to get better with two strikes and understand what I can do with two strikes, especially with guys on base, and using the whole field.’
“So for a 21-year-old kid to be thinking that way, and this — in the winter time, it’s pretty impressive.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this week, Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long was asked what he and the other coaches can do to try to help a player like Soto, who is already pretty good and determined to keep getting better.
“I think as a coach what I try to do is I try to see if there is anything that we can do or we’re missing that can help him be better,” Long said.
“Certainly last year was — for the 52 games or whatever he played — because he ended up missing a bunch because of COVID in the beginning, so he didn’t have a Spring Training, he didn’t have anything, we tried to get him ready as fast as we could, but this guy continues to impress me, continues to impress his peers, continues to impress analysts. He does a lot of things right and his strike zone is so good that it’s almost, it’s almost bulletproof for him to go into a slump. It’s — obviously he’s going to go into some slumps — but I mean he won’t swing at a pitch that’s outside the strike zone, and that’s very, very rare especially for someone his age. He just — he zeroes in on the strike zone, his mechanics are damn near flawless. They’re very, very good.
“And the way he makes adjustments, the way he’s starting to learn other teams, not just other pitchers, but the way certain teams pitch, the Pirates pitch in more than other teams, just whatever it is, these guys use a lot of four-seam fastballs up in the zone, he’s starting to understand all that and it’s just kind of fun to watch and I’m blessed and honored that I get to be a part of his career.”
Asked for a comp from other stops in his career as a hitting coach with both of the New York teams, Long told the MLB Network Radio hosts that Soto was one of the few hitters he’s seen that he knew would be special right away.
“As soon as I saw Juan Soto hit I said, ‘Wow.’ I said, ‘This is special.’ And the only time I can remember saying that about somebody is when I saw Robinson Canó. When I saw Robinson Canó for the first time he was in Double-A, I said, ‘Wow, this guy is going to be special.’ And that’s kind of how I was with Juan Soto. The other intangibles and things that he has: Is he smart? Yes. Does he have work ethic? Yes. Does he want to get better? Yes. Is he content with where he’s at? No. I mean, there’s just so many things that kind of play into him being so good at such a young age, it’s going to be exciting to watch this guy just grow and develop and I truly think he’s going to be one of the best players that’s ever played the game, I really do.”