Darnell Coles, hired as the Washington Nationals’ new hitting coach in October, (following the departure of Kevin Long, who left and signed on in Philadelphia after four seasons in D.C.), talked during his introductory press conference about knowing what to do with Juan Soto once he and the 23-year-old start working together in Spring Training (assuming we’ll have ST and a season when the lockout eventually ends).
“I think with Juan Soto — what I’ve dug into there, is that nobody under any circumstances is to mess with his swing,” Coles said.
Soto, heading into what will be his fifth big league campaign in 2022, is coming off a 2021 season which ended with him ranked 1st in the National League in on-base percentage (.465), 1st in walks (145), 1st in OBP w/ RISP (.577), and AVG w/ RISP (.396), 2nd in AVG (.313), OPS (.999), wOBA (.420), wRC+ (163), and runs scored (111), with the third-highest fWAR (6.6), and he was 3rd in SLG w/ RISP (.689) amongst all of the qualified NL hitters as well.
Juan Soto, 2021 Backwards Ks.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) January 19, 2022
Living on the Edge. pic.twitter.com/gZBsIS6Y3t
“He is the epitome of what a great major league hitter is,” Coles said. “He understands the strike zone, he pays attention to detail, he understands what they are trying to do, he does his homework, he doesn’t let the moment get too big for him, he stays to the middle of the field. His best quality is that he can basically get a hit whenever he wants to, to the opposite field, which is tough to do. So, I think a lot of people in baseball understand the kind of player he is. Obviously this organization does, and my objective is to make sure that he gets, as well as everybody else, everything they need to ensure that we— on a daily basis — can compete against any team.”
While he will, of course, try to give everyone everything they need, Coles acknowledged with a hitter like Soto, things are different.
“They’re going to pitch Juan different than they are the masses of our team,” Coles said, “...so we’ve got to understand that in some instances, the general scouting report works for the group, but then in other instances, we got to make sure that Juan has a better idea as to what those two or three things that he’s looking for and allow that to kind of translate to how we attack hitters, or how we understand pitchers are attacking us.”
What he wants to see in general, Coles said, is all the team’s hitters making good and solid contact, swinging at good pitches, and putting balls in play.
“We’ve got to control the strike zone, we got to make sure that — sometimes you’ve got to have tough conversations when guys are swinging outside the zone or trying to do too much or not allowing the next guy to do his,” he explained, “…so again, analytically, we’re trying to make sure that walk percentage, chase percentage, swing percentage, all lines up. Are we swinging a lot, are we making good contact, great, then that’s fine, but if you’re swinging a lot and then now that leads to chasing a lot, that means you’re not walking and then you’re going to fall off a cliff.
“So there’s multiple ways that we’ve got to figure out what each individual guy needs, and we’ll attack their strengths and we’ll also attack their weaknesses, to make sure that we have a consistency that leads to balance throughout the lineup from top to bottom.”
When it comes to contact, what’s his thinking on contact versus good contact?
Soto has the best zone judgement and plate discipline out of any hitter ever to play this game. I truly believe that. Love competing against him. He’s a legend already! @JuanSoto25_ https://t.co/4R0tJebVsN— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) January 19, 2022
“I think each individual guy it’s different,” Coles said. “Juan Soto is Juan Soto. That’s god-given, I think we all know that, and he’s one of if not the best hitters in the game, but each and every guy has his own routine, each and every guy has to go out and compete, and get pitched a way so that he’s got to understand that he’s got to stay within the framework of his strengths until they force you to your weakness. And again, you wait the pitcher out until he makes a mistake, but if you wait him out and he makes a mistake, you can’t miss the mistake. So you’ve got to make sure that; A: You’re on time so that you can make good decisions, because a lot of times it’s not necessarily a mechanic that gets you in trouble, maybe you started a little late, he sped you up, he quick-pitched you so now you’re in-between, so there’s aligning the starts or realigning the starts when it comes to making your adjustments from pitch to pitch, but most importantly just allowing yourself to get in position, slow it down so that it allows you to be on time, so that you can make good decisions.
“And when you make good decisions it’s going to better our chances of consistently hitting balls hard and putting big numbers up every night.”