Over the winter, Juan Soto went from a third-year outfielder earning a prorated amount of $629,400 to a Super Two-status player, who became arbitration-eligible, for the first time, and avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1-year/$8.5M deal with Washington’s Nationals for the 2020 campaign.
It has been a whirlwind three years for Soto, who got called up in 2018 and in three seasons has risen to stardom as a player widely-considered one of the best hitters in baseball.
How has life changed for Soto, who signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.5M in 2015?
“I’m still being the same guy,” Soto told reporters in his first Zoom call of the spring Tuesday afternoon. “The same rookie from 2018. For me, I just try to keep it simple. Keep my life, try to be the same guy, try to keep going in the same way, but yeah, definitely changed. In the Dominican, there’s been a couple changes.
“I just try to cover myself, don’t be too much exposed, and try to enjoy my family as much as I can.”
There’s also a tremendous amount of chatter right now about Soto being in line for the next big-money, long-term extension, after Fernando Tatís, Jr., also 22 like Soto, signed a new 14-year/$340M deal with the San Diego Padres this winter. But Soto isn’t letting any of that get into his head as he tries to prepare for the 2021 campaign (after winning the NL batting title in 2020’s 60-game season).
“I was really happy for [Tatís],” Soto said when asked about his reaction to Tatís’s deal with the Padres. “I just congratulated him and everything. For me, right now, I just try to come here to play baseball, 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.”
Soto’s manager, Davey Martinez, talked on Tuesday afternoon about the small things that he wants his left-turned-right fielder to focus on in Spring Training.
“For me it’s — he’s going to continue to grow as a player,” Martinez said. “He’s done some unbelievable things as a young player thus far.
“But I think the sky is the limit for him. We talk a lot about getting better on defense. Getting better in the baserunning. He’s still learning a lot about the game.”
A preternaturally gifted player on the field, Soto is also mature for his age, something that his manager said has impressed him as much as the outfielder’s talent.
“He’s always ready. He’s always ready to play. He’s matured a lot. I think he’s going to be one of those young men who actually becomes that team leader. You can hear it in his voice. He is always engaged and last year towards the end he was that guy.
“He’s only going to grow as a player and as a person. I know that. He’s such an unbelievable person, not only on the field, but off the field.
“I’m blessed to have him around. And be able to have conversations with him.”
Soto doesn’t necessarily see himself in a leadership role.
“I mean, for me, we have a bunch of veteran players on the team. I just try to keep learning from them. I know he says he wants me to be on it. Every time he needs me to tell something to the guys I can do that. I can be on it. But I keep learning from the veteran players. For me, I’m going to keep being the same rookie since 2018. I just try to keep learning from them, keep playing hard, and try to help the team as much as I can.
“If they need me to help somebody else, I will try. But for me, in my mind, I just keep being the rookie.”