Yankees' Aaron Boone captivated by Juan Soto's 'relentless nature' at the plate

Despite starting the season with a 24-13 record before facing the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, the Yankees have had an odd start offensively. Even though they rank in the upper echelon in most offensive categories collectively, New York has had some brutal starts at the plate, individually.

While that’s begun to change lately (20 runs on 31 hits in their last three games), the one constant in the Yankees’ lineup since Opening Day has been Juan Soto.

Entering Wednesday, Soto is slashing .329/.432/.564 to give him a .996 OPS, which is fourth-best in MLB. He also has eight home runs, 28 RBI, 25 runs scored, seven doubles, a triple, 26 walks and four stolen bases – all of which are either ranked first or second on the team. Over his last seven games, the right fielder is batting .385 with a 1.063 OPS.

It’s the start of a season that the Yankees dreamt of when the team traded for the All-Star during the offseason, but really this is just Soto being Soto. For manager Aaron Boone, it’s been a pleasure to watch.

“It’s a show,” Boone said when asked about Soto’s approach at the plate. “You can feel the energy of the crowd… literally every pitch it’s theater. That’s been fun to witness. Obviously how good he is and how disciplined he is at his craft, but how just the relentless nature of his at-bats. I’ve heard all my life over the years ‘this guy never gives an at-bat away.’ Juan embodies that, he doesn’t give a pitch away. Every pitch you kind of hold your breath a little bit.”

Since entering the league at 19 years old in 2018 with the Washington Nationals, Soto has been one of the best hitters on the planet and has always had a flair for the dramatics. During the 2019 World Series – on the biggest stage, in front of millions of people – Soto went 9-for-27 with three home runs and introduced the world to his “Soto shuffle” at the dish.

Facing pitchers like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, Soto didn’t back down once and became known for having an incredibly gifted eye at the plate, spitting on tough pitches and letting the pitchers know it by adding a little shimmy after every ball thrown.

New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto (22) celebrates with center fielder Aaron Judge (99) after hitting a three run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old still has a great eye and, to this day, does his “Soto shuffle” on offerings he deems unworthy to swing at. It’s this selectivity at the plate that makes every Soto at-bat such a spectacle to watch.

“I think there’s just an intensity to it and I think it highlights the importance of every pitch. Not just in his at-bats, but everyone’s. You kind of go like man, we want to have that kind of intensity and locked-in nature on every pitch and you want your opponent to feel that as well,” Boone said.

So far, it’s been working with New York boasting the fourth-best winning percentage in the league.

And that’s with the Yankees’ other superstar Aaron Judge off to a not-so-Judgian start at the plate. Although, even that’s begun to turn in New York’s favor as Judge has slashed .283/.415/.566 over his last 15 games to raise his batting average to .222 – the highest it’s been since going 1-for-4 on Opening Day.

“Just getting a little closer to being when he’s really, really locked in and I feel like he’s done a better job of staying in the zone longer with his swing and that’s all timing and approach and the subtlety of your move and stuff, it’s allowing you to get your good swing off more consistently – I feel like that’s happening. Last night, I thought all night he got off a lot of good swings,” Boone said about Judge.

But back to Soto.

In the final year of his contract, Soto will have to decide if he wants to remain in the Bronx or sign somewhere else. After all, wherever he goes he’s destined for a huge payday, especially if he keeps up his current pace which doesn’t seem too out of character for him.

Wherever he ends up, Boone is thankful he’s gotten the chance to get to know the young superstar and that he’s on the Yankees now, helping the team win and compete for a World Series.

“I guess I’m pleasantly surprised by the regular guy-ness of him,” Boone said. “One thing that stands out right away is how much he loves the game and that’s not just hitting; he cares about his defense and baserunning and being part of the team and he’s very easy-going outside the batter’s box. Easy to talk to, smart, good-natured and a really good worker, and it’s been fun to see that… Obviously, we love having him.”