Washington Nationals: Running out of superlatives for Juan Soto

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 23: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals hits a fly ball out to left field in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on August 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 23: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals hits a fly ball out to left field in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on August 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Our next 2018 Report Card is out and it’s for Juan Soto, who wasn’t supposed to be this good, this fast for the Washington Nationals, but here we are.

It’s one of our more hotly anticipated 2018 Report Cards as we dive into Juan Soto and his historic rookie season. The Washington Nationals weren’t expecting him to be ready this soon, but he proved to be up to the task, and so much more.

After making his debut on May 20th, he made his first start on May 21st and went deep on his first pitch, setting the tone for his monumental season. He finished the season with an incredible slash line of .292/.406/.517 while hitting 22 home runs and driving in 70 runs.

The outfielder had one of the best seasons by a teenager in major league history, smashing several teenage records in the process. He could cap it all off with National League rookie of the Year honors, as he is part of a tight race with Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves.

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The Positives for Soto

This section of his report could go on forever, but we’ve narrowed it down to two primary positives. As has been noted several times, Soto’s plate discipline is at the very least on par with some of the elite in baseball already, and that’s before you even mention he’s 19. Only three players with at least 450 plate appearances had a higher OBP than Soto, and those three were Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. He was able to boost this with his exceptional eye at the plate, as he only swung at 21.9 percent of pitches outside the zone, the seventh-lowest percentage in the NL and 14th in all of baseball. For perspective, the league average is 30.7 percent, so for a rookie to clear that by quite some distance is astounding.

One part of Soto’s game that probably goes underappreciated is how he was consistently able to come up in the clutch for the Nationals in 2018. According to Fangraphs, in high leverage spots, Soto led the team in OBP, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ and was 16th in the NL in those spots. He was also able to walk more than he struck out which just goes to show that he can handle the pressure, and should be set for a long, successful career right in the heart of the Nats order.

Areas for Improvement

The most obvious knock on Juan Soto is definitely his sketchy defense in the outfield. FanGraphs gave him a -9.3 Defensive Rating, which was the fifth-worst among outfielders in all of baseball. He displayed a fringey arm, at best and you could tell that his routes to the ball weren’t fantastic, although the latter can certainly be worked on as he gets more experience. For now, he will be manageable in left field and could be just about league-average with a bit of work. Long-term a move to first base makes a ton of sense, especially as he seemed to bail himself out with some nice one-hop catches instead of letting the ball bounce past him, a key part of playing first base.

Perhaps a nitpicky area for improvement is how the young outfielder tired as the season went along. He slumped, in probably the loosest possible definition of the word, with a slash line of .255/.402/.398 in August, with the power in particular suffering. He was able to get back on track in September, after having a couple of days off mixed in. This type of down-spell, if you can really call it that, for someone who only played 83 professional games in parts of two seasons with the organization, before playing 155 in 2018. Hopefully, after a full season under his belt, and a few well-timed days off, he’ll be better prepared for the long season next year.

The Final Grade

Juan Soto is potentially on track to be a future MVP if his rookie year is anything to go by, and that’s not even getting carried away. Regardless of who gets rookie honors, the Nats phenom and Acuña are going to be duking things out at the top of the NL East for some time.

Yes, his defense wasn’t great in the outfield, but when you have a bat as special as Soto’s, it’s not a huge issue. Therefore, with that in mind and just the record he eclipsed impressively in 2018, there’s no way he can’t get top marks for his performance. A+

Washington Nationals. JUAN SOTO. A+. . OF

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Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.

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