Juan Soto hit 11 home runs in 79 games and 332 plate appearances going into the All-Star Break last summer, in his fourth big league campaign, but things picked up for the now-23-year-old slugger after a visit to Denver, Colorado’s Coors Field, where he took part in MLB’s 2021 All-Star HR Derby for the first time, in his first All-Star Game appearance.
Soto put on an impressive display in the Derby, losing to eventual winner Pete Alonso in the second round, after knocking Shohei Ohtani out in the first round, then came out swinging in the second-half of the season, hitting three homer runs his first three games and 15 PAs to start what would end up being a monster second-half run (.348/.525/.639 line, 18 HRs, 11 doubles, 87 walks vs 41 Ks in 72 games and 322 PAs after the break).
Soto’s .525 second-half OBP was 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, and the uptick in his home runs he credited to finding his swing in the Derby, after a few frustrating months of ground ball outs as he struggled to elevate the ball.
“You can tell, I just feel so much better now,” Soto said when asked about the impact of the HR Derby. “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 went into the All-Star Break this year with 20 HRs in 91 games, but he told reporters he decided to take part on the HR Derby again because ... “I mean, for me, it worked last year.”
Soto, as quoted by MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, said he was trying to fix his swing last year in Coors Field, but this year, he’s going in with a different agenda, after he also hit a 520 foot. shot which currently stands as the “Statcast era’s” record-holder for the longest home run in the Derby:
“I was pretty lucky last year. I don’t know how far I can hit one, but I will see,” Soto said.
“I’m going to try to hit the longest oppo homer of this Derby. … Everybody can pull the ball. Let’s see how far you hit the ball oppo.”
Goals, people. Will you be watching Juan Soto in the HR Derby tonight? If not, why not? No, really, we care why or why not? Enjoy the show...