After a sensational rookie season in 2018, it’s not out of the realms of possibility Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto could win NL MVP in 2019.
Washington Nationals fans could be forgiven if they are still in shock at the rookie season that Juan Soto last year. He wasn’t supposed to be this good, this soon, but in his time in the big leagues, he was one of the best hitters in the league.
Even though Ronald Acuña Jr. pipped him to Rookie of the Year, it was a close fought race right until the end of the season. After competing for that award together, they could now be set to battle it out for MVP awards for the foreseeable future, starting in 2019.
Acuña actually picked up NL MVP votes last season, finishing 12th in the balloting, while Soto easily could’ve had his team made the playoffs because apparently, that’s an unwritten condition for MVP votes. But that’s an argument for another day.
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Had Soto played more games, he definitely had a shot to finish in the top 10, if not higher. When we look at rate stats rather than incremental stats, among National Leaguers with at least 450 plate appearances, Soto finished fourth in OPS, fourth in wRC+ and third in wOBA as he simply dazzled with the bat showing an approach with maturity beyond his years.
The Nationals phenom is also entering his age-20 season and should improve on the gaudy numbers that he put up last year. While some major leaguers will suffer a sophomore slump, Soto has shown an uncanny ability to adapt to how pitchers are attacking, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that he can hit the ground running next season and be the sensation we saw early in the season.
Several doubters will point to his poor defense as a reason that he couldn’t win MVP and that it will hold him back. However, while his defense is far from an asset, it is far from a dealbreaker. You just need to look back at last year’s MVP Christian Yelich for evidence of that.
While the defensive metrics probably are harsh on him, Yelich actually had a negative Defensive WAR last season at -0.6 in right field. So if Soto can play close to average defense, which is possible now that he actually has experience in left field, a position he rarely played until the major leagues and with a full offseason to develop.
Someone like Yelich also paves the perfect path for Soto to get to a potential National League MVP. The Milwaukee Brewers star slashed .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs, 118 runs, and 110 RBI.
While this is somewhat cherry-picking, if we pull out Soto’s first 58 games and stretch them to 162 it looks mightily similar to Yelich’s numbers, proving that the top award is within reach. Looking at those 58 games we get a .315/.423/.581 slash line with a projected 37 homers, 112 runs, and 101 RBI. Over a full season, if he can put it all together, then that seems well within reach.
Make no mistake, it’s going to take something special for Juan Soto to take home the senior circuit’s MVP. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for the Washington Nationals wunderkind if he continues to impress.