“He’s a good person, first and foremost,” Trea Turner said of his teammate Juan Soto on a Zoom call with reporters from West Palm Beach, FL yesterday.
Turner, 27, was asked what impressed him about Soto, the 22-year-old outfielder.
The fact that Soto is such a good person was the first thing that came to mind.
“Especially when you have a superstar, a guy that’s really good at the game, it’s nice to be around him and just learn from him and I think he brings that joy and he’s fun,” Turner said.
“So, he’s a great person, but I think I’ve said this before, he’s not scared of anything. And that’s hard to do, especially at a young age. He doesn’t care if he’s 0 for 10, he’s got to get up there in the ninth inning bases loaded, two outs, down by a run, he’s excited for all that stuff. Some people try to fake it, but he truly isn’t scared of those things or those moments, he seems to perform, every single time he gets that chance. He seems to lock it in even more so, and kind of deliver, so just the maturity level I guess, and the willingness to step up in any situation and put a smile on his face and do it I think is pretty special to watch, especially so young.”
Soto spoke to reporters on Tuesday too, and he was asked if it’s true that he’s not scared.
And if so ... why isn’t he scared?
“I mean, for me, why do we got to be scared? If I make myself out, it’s okay, I’ve got another one,” Soto said, matter of factly.
“For me, I won’t ever be scared. I don’t mind who is on the mound or whatever. I just try to concentrate, and I like that. I like the big moments. I was one of the guys when I was a child I always played in a lot of tournaments, there was a lot of pressure, and I love it. Since I was a kid I even love all those moments like that.
“I just step to the plate and see what they’ve got. For me, I think that’s where it comes from.”
Soto is coming off a 2020 NL batting title in the 60-game COVID campaign. He finished the truncated season with the highest batting average in the National League (.351; second-highest in the majors), the top OBP in the majors, (.490), highest SLG (.695), highest wOBA (.478), the highest wRC+ (200), the fifth-most walks (41), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in the 47 games he played and 196 plate appearances he made.
Turner hit just .238 over the first 16 games (and 71 PAs) last season, but he hit in five straight towards the end of that stretch, and he hit .510 over a 16-game hit streak from August 14-31, and .371 over his final 43 games and 188 PAs overall, to finish the year with a .335/.394/.588 line, 15 doubles, and 12 home runs in 59 games and 259 PAs overall.
Because of the success they’ve enjoyed, both Soto and Turner have been talked about as the next two players who might get long-term extensions that will keep them in D.C. long-term.
“I would love to play here my entire career,” Turner said when asked if he’s open to signing on to stay with the Nationals before he potentially becomes a free agent after 2023.
“I’ve said in the past I’ve always liked it here and don’t think the grass is greener on the other side necessarily, but it’s a business and things change, but as of right now I would love to play here for my entire career. I love it here, I love the atmosphere and the ballclub that [GM Mike] Rizzo and the coaching staff has put together every single year, and we’ll see.
“Those talks have happened in the past, and hopefully they’ll happen in the future, but as of right now, we’re taking it day-by-day I guess.”
Soto avoided arbitration with the Nationals this winter, signing a one-year/$8.5M deal after qualifying for Super Two status following the 2020 season.
He’s arbitration-eligible and under team control until 2025, but the trend of signing young stars to long-term deals early, which continued with 22-year-old, second-year San Diego Padre Fernando Tatís, Jr. getting a 14-year/$340M deal earlier this month, has inevitably led to questions about whether or not a deal for Soto is in the works.
“We signed developed and brought Juan to the big leagues in very, very short order and at a very young age and we see him as hopefully a National for a long, long time,” Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ GM, told reporters last week. “But we’re still in the early stages of discussion.
“We had some discussions with him on a long-term deal last Spring Training, and they didn’t go very far, and since the COVID season of 2020, we really haven’t reengaged on that, but our plans are to make an effort like we’ve made efforts in the past to our really great young players to keep them in a Nationals uniform for a long, long time.”
Soto’s reaction to the Tatís’ deal?
“I was really happy for him, I just congratulated him and everything,” Soto said. But did that deal get him thinking about his own future?
“For me, right now, I just try to come here to play baseball,” he said.
“I don’t think about anything like that. Every time I come to Spring Training, my mind is on baseball. I try to get my body in shape. Get ready. And try to win another championship.”
Does he just ignore all the talk out there about a potential multi-year deal for hundreds of millions of dollars?
“For me right now, I’m playing baseball,” Soto said, not biting.
“I forget about it. I’m happy for [Tatis]. He got his deal, but for me, my mind is on baseball.”
“Since I got here, I try to disconnect my mind from the world and just try to enjoy it with my teammates, to come here to the field and play baseball with my teammates.”
But seriously... hundreds of millions of dollars? Hundreds. Of millions. Is it hard to ignore that talk?
“For me, not that hard. Because I just try to disconnect like I said,” Soto reiterated.
“I just forget about it and keep playing baseball.”
The idea of playing alongside Soto for years to come definitely appeals to Turner, though he said they haven’t really talked to each other about both signing on long-term.
“I would love it,” Turner said. “Obviously, I would love to play here. Any time that guy is on your team, I definitely don’t want him on the other team, so let’s keep him here as long as possible. But I haven’t necessarily talked to him about long-term, but I think we know that both of us enjoy playing together. I’m always joking about left field with him, he’s going to be on the other side of the field now, thank god, I have to give him crap about that.
“We’re always joking together. I think we have a great relationship, and I think it goes without saying that we’d love to play with each other for a long time.”
“I would love to play my entire career here, I would love for him to play his entire career here, but we’ll see,” Turner added.
“Those are big, big questions, and you’ve got to kind of take it day-by-day, and if it happens, that would be special.”