Going into the 2021 All-Star Break, Juan Soto had 11 home runs in 79 games and 332 plate appearances on the season, in his fourth big league campaign, with just three in his previous 31 games at that point, in mid-July, but things picked up for the now-23-year-old slugger after a visit to Denver, Colorado’s Coors Field. Soto put on an impressive display in the HR Derby, then he came out swinging in the second-half, hitting three homers in his first three games and 15 PAs to start what would end up being a monster post-All-Star Game run which lifted him in the running for the 2021 NL MVP [ed. note - “He ended up finishing second in the voting.”]
“You can tell, I just feel so much better now,” Soto said when asked about the impact of the HR Derby on his swing last summer. “I was thinking about it and it really helped me a little bit just get me that feeling how to put the ball in the air and everything. Because I tried everything that I can in the first half, and the ball [would] still go into the ground, so I’ve just got to find a way to put the ball in the air, and see how it goes and I think the Derby helped me out, big time.”
Soto hit 18 home runs total in 72 games and 322 PAs in the second-half of the 2021 season, and finished the year with a .348/.525/.639 run, over which he hit 11 doubles as well, driving in 53 runs, taking 87 walks, and scoring 57 runs, with his .525 on-base percentage in that stretch the eighth best, “in Major League history for any player after the All-Star Break,” as the Nationals noted in their 2021 Season in Review last winter.
When Soto struggled at the start again this season, his manager, Davey Martinez, joked with reporters about staging a HR Derby for the Nats’ slugger.
“I’m thinking about having a home run derby one day in batting practice for him,” Martinez said.
“Let him play home run derby, and see if that helps. But we’re going to try something.”
Soto put up a .238/.384/.448 line through May 30th this season, when Martinez made those comments.
On June 24th, Soto had a .214/.365/.431 line on the year. In his last 15 games, he has put up a .409/.567/.705 line, which has him up to .243/.398/.473 overall on the year, and he’s got a league-leading 73 walks (vs 54 Ks), he’s second in OBP, and in a down year (by his own high standards) so far, he’s tied for 6th (with Mookie Betts) in the NL in wOBA (.381), he’s tied for 9th overall in wRC+ (145), and his 14.7 K% on the year is the 8th lowest.
Soto was named an All-Star by Major League Baseball this past weekend, and the club now announced he’s going to take part in the HR Derby again.
He’s hit three homers in his last nine games a week out of the All-Star Break, and has 17 total on the year.
“He’s really staying on the ball really well,” Martinez told reporters last weekend. “I said this before, when he starts hitting home runs to center field and left field, that’s who he is. And the rest of it will come.”