Washington Nationals: Is Juan Soto the next Joey Votto?
By Brian Foley
Juan Soto has the stats and the swagger of Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. Will the Washington Nationals’ left fielder reach the heights of the Reds’ superstar?
While the Washington Nationals have struggled to maintain consistency over the last three months, left fielder Juan Soto has quickly established himself as one of the team’s most reliable offensive forces.
Even though Soto is yet to even play half-a-season at the major league level, the 19-year-old outfielder already looks like another superstar. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto.
Although Votto has played nearly 1,500 more MLB games than Soto and plays first base rather than the outfield, the stylistic comparison’s between the two are evident.
First, let’s look at the numbers, comparing Votto’s 12-year-career to Soto’s 66 games. Discounting the sample size difference, the statistical similarities are startling:
Thus far, Soto has matched Votto step for step. He has shown himself to be a high-average hitter with excellent on-base skills and good power. Soto does not seem to profile as an elite bomber, but he does profile as a steady, second-tier home run hitter like Votto.
The Reds’ star has consistently hovered around 30 home runs each season, finishing between 24 and 37 dingers eight separate times. With 13 homers so far in 2018, Soto himself is on pace for 31 home runs over a full 162-game season, right in Votto’s range.
Dig deeper into the numbers, and Votto and Soto have eerily similar contact stats:
|Walk rate||K rate||Pull rate||Oppo rate|
|Juan Soto||16.5 percent||17.6 percent||36.6 percent||29.0 percent|
|Joey Votto||16.3 percent||17.5 percent||35.5 percent||30.4 percent|
Okay, now that’s crazy. At the plate, Votto is known for two things, his patience and working to the opposite field. In fact, since 2009, Votto has finished inside the top five in on-base percentage every single season, excluding his injury-shortened 2014 campaign.
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Votto has also racked up five seasons inside the top 30 in opposite field rate, including four top-15 appearances, two number one finishes, and several fun anecdotes like this. That Soto has pasted a carbon copy of Votto’s numbers onto the back of his own baseball card is absolutely incredible.
And it’s not just about the statistics. Votto has one inch and 35 pounds on Soto, but both players unequivocally own the batter’s box, slowly sauntering towards the dish before digging in on the left side of the plate. They both have squat stances that become even more pronounced once the count moves to two strikes.
The two lefties also have a silent swagger about them; without seeming arrogant, they simply know they are better than you. Soto is a little more expressive than Votto, as when the opposing pitcher freezes Soto on a good pitch, the 19-year-old gives a wry smile and nods. The Cincinnati first baseman still wears his emotions on his sleeve from time to time.
Besides the 15-year age difference and the 1,800-mile gap in their birthplaces, the only real distinction between Soto and Votto right now is on defense. Both play two of the least demanding positions on the diamond, but Votto is a Gold Glover who has saved 47 defensive runs over his career at first base, while Soto is clearly still learning his craft over in left field. Soto is certainly young and athletic enough to improve, though it’s unlikely he ever reaches Votto’s elite level.
If Soto currently projects as a Votto-level hitter on offense, he will probably top out as a J.D. Martinez-esque defender in the outfield. He will make the routine play and occasionally even surprise with an extraordinary effort, but his bat will always be his calling card.
Just because Soto is following in Votto’s footsteps at the plate does not mean he will reach the same heights. Votto is a former MVP, a six-time All-Star, a Gold Glover, a franchise linchpin, and a likely Hall of Famer. Soto has a long way to go to hit those marks, and even if he falls short, the Nationals will still have a quality player for years to come.
Just two years ago, Nats fans saw Trea Turner dominate the National League over a 73-game sample as a rookie. Since then, he has failed to maintain that historic pace but has nonetheless settled into a legitimately useful piece. As prodigious as he looks right now, it’s much too early to lock Soto into stardom. You never know how the league will adjust to him over the offseason, and how he adjusts in return.
Then again, Soto is lighting up the box score with Votto-type stats at age 19. Even Votto didn’t hit his peak until 25 years old, in his third season in the bigs. What if this isn’t Soto’s ceiling, but is actually closer to his floor? As unlikely as it seems, just because a player is great to start, it doesn’t mean they can’t get better, especially for a teenager. Now that would be something to buckle up for.
In less than three months, Juan Soto has already set himself up quite well. Let’s see what path he takes over the next few years with the Washington Nationals.