Washington Nationals: Is Juan Soto better than Bryce Harper at 19?

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Juan Soto #22 and Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrate after a 10-2 victory against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on May 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Juan Soto #22 and Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrate after a 10-2 victory against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on May 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Juan Soto has been one of the top hitters for the Washington Nationals since debuting in May. But is he better than Bryce Harper was at the same age?

Juan Soto only made 512 total Minor League plate appearances before the Washington Nationals called him up on May 20th, 2018 to make his MLB debut. On Opening Day this year, he was playing for the Hagerstown Suns in Single-A. But since joining the Nationals, he’s been one of their best hitters.

Not since the days of 19-year-old Bryce Harper has a Nationals rookie been successful so quickly. And while Harper arrived in 2012 as a once-in-a-generation talent, Soto is a more mature, more disciplined hitter than Bryce was at the same age.

Through 27 games, the young Dominican is hitting .326 with 6 home runs and 16 RBI in 92 at-bats. While most rookies are known to be free-swingers as they adapt to the Major League strike zone, Soto has shown discipline beyond his years, with 16 base on balls versus 20 strikeouts.

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When Nationals fans see Soto step up to the plate, they’re not seeing a nineteen-year-old kid. They’re seeing a grown man with conviction stepping into the batter’s box. He intends to make every match-up with the opposing pitcher a battle of wills.

When he has two strikes, he chokes up on the bat to give him more control on his swing. This is technique often taught in Little League but rarely seen in the Major Leagues. It’s another example of Soto’s determination to make the most of a plate appearance.

We’re six seasons removed from the year Harper made his debut. Fans haven’t forgotten how talented he was when he arrived in our nation’s capital full of swagger and confidence.

Harper was the same age as Soto is now when he made his debut back in 2012. The two outfielders couldn’t have been more different in terms of their approach and personality. Young Bryce was brash and cocky. Soto, on the other hand, is quiet and business-like. Harper would never be seen choking up on his bat in a 2-strike count.

As a rookie for the Nationals in 2012, Harper was a bit of a free-swinger. He still had 56 walks, but he struck out 120 times. His chase rate was 33.3%. In two-strike situations, his slash was .190/.252/.285. His walk rate was 10.7% and he saw an average of 3.86 pitches on average whenever he stepped into the box.

Soto, in comparison, has 16 walks in only 108 trips to the plate. He chases pitches at a lower rate than Harper at 25.1%. With two strikes, his slash is .184/.259/.327. Soto walks at a higher rate as well, at 14.4% and sees 3.94 pitches per appearance.

While the sample size isn’t very large, we can see that those numbers are actually slightly better than Harper’s were during his first season. A pretty remarkable achievement by the Nats left-fielder.

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With his maturity and approach, Juan Soto should continue to develop into a perennial All-Star caliber player. And that is a comforting thought for the Washington Nationals with Bryce Harper’s future with the team in doubt.

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