He’s been compared to Ted Williams. He’s featured in an ESPN cover story this week. He is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he won the NL batting title while leading the majors in OBP (.490), SLG (.695), wOBA (.478), and wRC+ (200), with the fifth-most walks (41), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in his 47 games and 196 plate appearances in the 60-game season.
How does he stay humble amidst all the fawning coverage and lofty comparisons?
He just doesn’t read his own press. But it’s not easy to avoid himself.
“It’s kind of tough, cause sometimes I get some people telling me, ‘Did you see this? Did you see that?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I haven’t seen it,’ and I want to, but I don’t,” Soto said in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday afternoon.
What has he learned about not getting distracted or letting the hype go to his head?
“Stay away from social media,” Soto said.
He’s got the whole in his hands... pic.twitter.com/uopWJMDxWJ— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) March 26, 2021
“I try to stay away. Just give it to my agents and all those kind of guys, they control that and all that kind of stuff. I just let them do it. For me, just try to stay away from that as much as I can, as soon as the season starts, I just try to stay away as much as I can.”
“I think Juan knows what type of player he is,” Ryan Zimmerman, 36, said of his 22-year-old teammate.
Zimmerman was asked about how Soto has handled all the attention he gets when others haven’t been able to deal with the scrutiny.
“Obviously he’s a really good player,” the 15-year veteran added, “... but I think he does a good job of just kind of keeping his head down, doing his work, and just trying to be the best player he can be. Just be him I guess is the best way to put it.”
It also helps that Soto genuinely loves baseball. Like loves it loves it. His manager, Davey Martinez, said it’s evident in the way Soto approaches his work each and every day.
“He’s one of the first guys to get to the ballpark,” Martinez said. “He loves being around the clubhouse, loves being around the teammates. You always see him, he’s always happy, but yet, his presence, the way he goes about his business, for a young player, you don’t see that very often.
“This game means a lot to him, and he absolutely loves playing. Whenever he’s playing, and I always ask him every day, I say, ‘Hey, do you need a day off?’
“And he looks at me and he goes, ‘No day, no inning, no pitch.’
“And that’s the way he looks at it. He wants to be in there for every inning of every game and every pitch. So, and he’s just a joy to be around.”
“I’m glad he’s a National. I love him. He’s a fun kid, and like I said, he loves to play the game.”
What does he loves most about baseball?
“Hitting,” Soto answered immediately, with a big smile.
“No. I really love the game. For me, it’s just [feeling] that energy to come out on the field and play hard and get the people — noise and get loud and everything.
“Definitely when I’m hitting that’s my favorite part, but every time I make a play in the outfield, running the bases, hitting, whatever, that’s the things that I love of this game.”
What does he love about hitting?
“My favorite part of hitting? Hitting the sweet spot,” Soto said. “No, just trying to get really good at bats, trying to see the pitches, try to help my team as much as I can. If I can help with whatever, high chopper, walk, whatever, if I’m helping my team, I feel good about it.
“Every time I go to the plate I’m just thinking to do something to help the team to win.”
Does he ever, you know, not think about baseball? In his down time? The offseason? When he’s away from the park?
“You know, I try to relax sometimes, just rest a little bit, go out, talk with my family,” Soto said.
“There is always reminders that come to my mind, at night, at the dinner table, whatever.
“There is always something that comes up to me and makes me think about baseball.”
Do the comparisons to Hall of Famers or does all the coverage add pressure?
“For me, I’m really glad about it. I just try to not concentrate too much on those comments.
“Just keep my focus on my game and baseball and everything.
“I know the pressure you’re talking about, but I just try to forget about everything else, just try to focus on my game, and don’t try to look at too [many] of those comments so I don’t get too much pressure on myself. So I just try to see it, that’s it, and then just keep going on my way. That’s how I do it right now, so I don’t get too much pressure.”
Has he seen any comparisons that he’s liked?
“When they compared me with a legend like that, like Ted Williams, I was like, that’s when I opened my eyes and I was like, ‘Woah, that was a really good one.’ That was the one who was opening my eyes, and when I started looking at his numbers and everything, I haven’t looked in forever, so when I started looking at his numbers and everything and you see what he got done, it’s just amazing, and to be in the leagues with him, it’s just great to be out there, and I feel really proud of myself, but like I said, I just try to forget about it and keep playing baseball, my game.”