Juan Soto fell to a knee, tossed his bat “sky high” as the announcer noted, and started to celebrate the final home run needed to claim the 2022 MLB HR Derby, beating 21-year-old Seattle Mariners’ phenom Julio Rodríguez in the finals after eliminating the Cleveland Guardians’ José Ramírez and the St. Louis Cardinals’ future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in the first two rounds. His thoughts when he’d hit the winning home run?
“I was looking for power to flip my bat because I had no power at all,” Soto joked. “But then when I saw the ball lands and goes, it just feels amazing. I saw the scoreboard change and show you the champion. It just feel amazing when I saw that.”
The win comes after a tumultuous few days for the Washington Nationals’ 23-year-old right fielder following reports this past weekend he’d turned down a 15-year/$440 extension offer from the club, which is now reportedly considering dealing him before the August 2nd trade deadline, with two and a half years of control left before he’ll reach free agency at 26, follow the 2024 campaign, if they don’t think an extension is going to get done.
Soto fielded questions in D.C. this weekend, homered in his finale plate appearance of the “first half” on Sunday, then flew to Los Angeles for more talk about his future during his All-Star media availability, before winning the Derby, and getting more questions about what the future holds as the deadline nears.
“I’m a lone survivor,” he said with a laugh when asked how he’s handling it all. “I’ve been going through all this stuff and I’m still here standing up and with my chin up, all the time. And that shows you I can go through anything.”
He continued to deflect the contract and potential trade questions throughout the post-HR Derby presser.
“Like I said, I just let my agent do whatever [he] needs to do,” Soto explained. “All the conversations that they have, they going to have them with him. I’m just going to be here to play baseball. I’m just going to go to Nationals Park and give my hundred percent every day.”
Soto finished the first half of his fifth big league season with a .250/.405/.497 line, 17 doubles, 20 home runs, 79 walks, and 54 strikeouts in 91 games and 393 plate appearances, posting a .409/.567/.864 line, two doubles, six home runs, 16 walks, four Ks in 15 games and 60 PAs heading into the break.
He’s now won a World Series, an NL Batting title, made two All-Star Games, and won the HR Derby (among other notable accomplishments) by the age of 23. What’s next?
“Win another championship,” Soto said.
“Why not? I mean, everybody knows and everybody wants to win an MVP one day. But for me, my pride can be win another championship and get that taste again.”