The Washington Nationals turned a moribund month of June on offense around on Friday, mashing seven home runs to beat the Philadelphia Phillies by a football score of 17-7. Two of those homers belonged to Juan Soto, whose bat is now looking like something special.
Through 139 career plate appearances, the 19-year-old Soto is now hitting .336/.446/.621 with eight homers and 21 RBIs. Soto, the youngest player in the majors, has shredded the space-time continuum and is currently making a very loud audition for the All-Star Game, located at his home stadium at Nationals Park. He might even be a candidate for the Home Run Derby in order to fill MLB’s desire for a hometown competitor, in case Bryce Harper gets antsy about doing it.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 30, 2018
Of course, Soto isn’t auditioning for the fans, because he’s not on MLB’s All-Star ballot. Unless he’s put on the Final Ballot, Soto needs to appeal to the players and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is managing the NL team this year.
The reason for why Soto isn’t on the ballot and why he’s a burgeoning star deserving of an All-Star nod are basically the same: He’s currently thriving in the majors after opening the season in Class-A Hagerstown.
Juan Soto’s rapid journey to the big leagues
Entering 2018, Soto’s story was one of clear promise and small sample sizes. He had good numbers, good scouting reports and not enough games of action for anyone to be sure his production was real. He turned plenty of heads by opening the season with a .360 batting average with Class-A Hagerstown, but an ankle injury ended his season after only 23 games. Losing that important game experience should have hurt Soto–emphasis on “should have.”
Soto opened the 2018 season by mashing at Hagerstown (.373/.486/.814 in 74 PAs), so the Nationals quickly promoted him to Class A-Advanced Potomac. Soto then mashed at Potomac (.371/.466/.790 in 73 PAs), which earned him another promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he, you guessed it, mashed (.323/.400/.581 in 35 PAs). At that point, injuries took enough of a toll on the Nationals that they figured they might as well throw Soto onto the MLB team despite him having only a few months of full-season ball under his belt.
Again, this should have hurt Soto. He was about to be handed a full-time MLB role faster than any teenage hitter this millennium.
Juan Soto is currently peerless
Juan Soto finished Friday’s game with 139 career plate appearances in the majors. ThroughBaseball Reference’s Play Index, here is the complete list of other players to see more than 130 MLB plate appearances as a teenager since the year 2000: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Melvin Upton Jr., Justin Upton and Mike Trout.
Here’s how many games of affiliated baseball those players played before reaching the majors:
Harper: 201 games
Machado: 219 games
M. Upton: 239 games
J. Upton: 216 games
Trout: 291 games
All of those players except for Trout, who is a magical baseball unicorn, were top-3 picks in the MLB draft, and they all needed at least 200 games of minor league action before they were ready for the majors. Harper had the highest OPS of any of them as a teenager with an .817 mark.
It took Soto 122 games to reach the majors and his OPS is currently 1.067. To put it simply, no player this young has made the majors this quickly in terms of game action, and no one close has mashed like Soto. Per MLB.com’s Andrew Simon, Soto’s OPS+, a metric which adjusts for era, currently ranks No. 1 in MLB history for a teenager. The top 10 includes Harper and Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Ty Cobb and Jimmie Foxx. Only Harper, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Renteria have even posted an above-average OPS+ as a teenager since 1975.
What does the future hold for Juan Soto?
Soto’s defense remains a work in progress and his offense is almost certainly in for some negative regression, simply because the idea he could improve from here seems impossible. However, Soto might only be due a little regression, and that should terrify National League pitchers. Fangraphs’ Steamer projections currently project Soto to hit .293/.377/.497 for the rest of the season. Add 300 plate appearances with those rate numbers to Soto’s current stats, and you get .307/.399/.536, enough to give Soto one of the best teenage seasons in MLB history.
Maybe injury will strike again for Soto, maybe MLB pitchers will finally figure out an effective way to attack him or maybe Soto will just calm down. But for now, Soto is performing at a rate unseen in the major leagues at his age.
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