The Washington Nationals have something special in 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto. He started the season with Hagerstown (Class A) then moved on to Potomac (Class A-Advanced). Fifteen games later he found himself in Class AA for eight games before injuries to Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Victor Robles and Rafael Bautista accelerated his timetable to the majors.
Soto, the club’s No. 2 prospect and the No. 15 overall prospect before the promotion, batted .362 with a 1.218 OPS in the minors this season, an impressive stretch for any prospect, let alone one that turns 20 in October. But what he is doing at the major league level is historic.
“Childish Bambino” is hitting .305 with 14 home runs and 50 walks, producing a 17 percent walk rate that is sixth-best in the majors this year. When Soto isn’t taking a free pass to first, he’s crushing balls: Soto is batting .367 with a 1.215 OPS against four-seam fastballs, sinkers and cutters, the highest OPS among batters who have seen at least 650 fastballs in 2018, per data from TruMedia. It doesn’t matter if the pitch is inside, outside, high or low — Soto finds a way to muscle it out of the park. He does, however, lose that patience and power against breaking balls (curves and sliders) with change-ups also giving him issues.
Still, pulverizing fastballs helps Soto create runs at a rate that is 59 percent higher than league average after taking into account league and park effects (159 wRC+). Only five other hitters (minimum 250 plate appearances in 2018) — Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez and Matt Carpenter — have been more productive at the plate. If he can keep it up, Soto will become the most prolific teenage hitter of all time, surpassing Mel Ott’s 1928 campaign. Teammate Bryce Harper currently has the fourth-best season, from when he was 19 in 2012.
|Juan Soto||2018 Nationals||19||.305||.423||.551||0.975||159|
|Mel Ott||1928 Giants||19||.322||.397||.524||0.921||140|
|Tony Conigliaro||1964 Red Sox||19||.290||.354||.530||0.883||138|
|Ty Cobb||1906 Tigers||19||.316||.355||.394||0.749||130|
|Bryce Harper||2012 Nationals||19||.270||.340||.477||0.817||121|
Soto is poised to join Ott, Ty Cobb (1906), Cesar Cedeno (1970) and Edgar Renteria (1996) as the only teenagers in MLB history to maintain a batting average above .300 for at least 250 plate appearances. Soto could join Ott and Tony Conigliaro (1964) as the only teenagers to have a slugging percentage over .500 and could be the only one to ever maintain an on-base percentage of .400 or higher.
That’s what makes Soto one of the favorites, if not the front-runner, for this year’s rookie of the year award. Since 1949, the first year the NL awarded the honor, there have been 18 rookies of all ages who have ended the season with an OPS at least 50 percent higher than average over at least 250 plate appearances. More than half have won the award (11) with six others finishing second. Only Carl Taylor’s 1969 rookie campaign fell short of a second place.
There are three position players that can prevent Soto from attaining the top rookie spot: Miami Marlins outfielder Brian Anderson, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña . However, none of them has a resume like Soto’s.
Anderson is batting .285 with a .781 OPS, creating runs at a rate that is 16 percent higher than average (116 wRC+). Winker is hitting .299 with an .836 OPS and a 128 wRC+ and Acuña, the favorite heading into the season, is batting .264 with a .820 OPS. Solid seasons, but none with the sparkle of Soto’s 2018 campaign.
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