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Ten people we’d like to see pitch to Juan Soto in the Home Run Derby

Juan Soto will take part in his second Home Run Derby next week in Los Angeles. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
5 min

Juan Soto will participate in the Home Run Derby for the second consecutive year, and after hitting a derby record 520-foot blast last summer at Denver’s Coors Field, the Nationals slugger has his eyes set on another mark — the longest opposite-field home run in the event’s history.

“Everybody can pull the ball,” Soto said Tuesday. “Let’s see how far you hit the ball oppo.”

Soto revealed that right-hander Jorge Mejia, his offseason hitting coach in the Dominican Republic, will pitch to him in the derby. Former Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long, who pitched to Soto last year, joined the Philadelphia Phillies in the same role during the offseason.

Mejia was the hitting coach for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League team during Soto’s time with the squad in 2016 and 2017. He was the hitting coach for the Fredericksburg Nationals last year before leaving the organization to join an agency and train amateurs in the Dominican. While Mejia knows Soto’s swing as well as anyone, and their chemistry could produce quite a show Monday at Dodger Stadium, here are 10 other names we would love to see pitch to Soto in the derby. (There’s always next year.)

His dad

Soto’s dad, also named Juan Jose Soto, used to pitch to his 5-year-old son after his local men’s league games in the Dominican Republic. The younger Soto honed his hand-eye coordination by swinging a soda bottle at bottle caps lobbed in his direction in the living room of their Santo Domingo home.

It’s not uncommon for a Home Run Derby participant to pick his dad as his pitcher for the event. Robinson Canó won the 2011 title with his father, José, a former Houston Astros pitcher, tossing meatballs from in front of the mound. Bryce and Ron Harper teamed up to win the 2018 derby at Nationals Park. Cody Bellinger and Kris Bryant did it. Who wouldn’t want to see the Sotos reprise the embrace they shared after the 2019 National League wild-card game?

Clayton Kershaw

Soto fared just fine against a left-handed pitcher in last year’s derby, and he has some experience taking Kershaw deep at Dodger Stadium. In the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS, Anthony Rendon and Soto hit back-to-back home runs off the Dodgers’ ace to tie the score. Washington went on to eliminate Los Angeles thanks to Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam.

Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander

Cole and Verlander will be in Los Angeles after being named to their fifth and ninth all-star teams, respectively, and the former Astros teammates have experience serving up moonshots to Soto. In Game 1 of the 2019 World Series, Soto took Cole deep onto the train tracks at Minute Maid Park. In Game 6, he obliterated a Verlander fastball to give the Nationals the lead.

Trea Turner

“If there’s one guy I could play with again for sure it would be him,” Turner said of Soto in May, when he returned to Nationals Park for the first time since being dealt to the Dodgers with Max Scherzer at last year’s trade deadline.

“That guy’s really fun,” Soto said of Turner, a pending free agent, after learning he would join his former teammate on the NL all-star squad. “I hope we’re going to have a good time there and try to convince him to come back. We’ll see.”

Soto and Long sat behind home plate at Dodger Stadium and cheered on Turner and Scherzer in last year’s NL wild-card game. It’s time for Turner to return the favor and take their friendship to the next level.

Scott Boras

Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, is no stranger to making pitches on behalf of his clients. Boras played baseball at the University of the Pacific and spent four years in the minors before getting his law degree. He could begin the derby by announcing a record-breaking contract extension that would keep Soto in Washington, with the stipulation that every home run his client proceeded to hit in the contest would earn him an extra $1 million in deferred money.

Ali Modami

The former Nationals batting practice pitcher — and secret good luck charm — left the organization before the 2021 season. He’s not far from the All-Star Game festivities after joining the Los Angeles Angels’ staff, and he tweeted Tuesday that it’s his “dream” to throw in the derby.

Alcides Escobar

Yes, the novelty of position players pitching is gone, but we’re willing to make an exception for the derby. Escobar, the Nationals’ shortstop, didn’t allow a home run in his two appearances this month, but he didn’t have to face the red-hot Soto.

Sam Clay

Clay deserves some shine after his whirlwind tour of the NL East this month. The left-handed reliever was designated for assignment by the Nationals on July 1, claimed by the Phillies on July 5, designated for assignment by the Phillies on July 8 and claimed off waivers by the New York Mets on Sunday. The job will give the Miami Marlins a good look at Clay before the Mets inevitably DFA him next week.

Will Smith

Soto and Smith — the Atlanta Braves’ reliever, not the Dodgers’ catcher with the same name or the Chris Rock-slapping actor — have a juicy history that stems from their head-to-head showdown during the 2020 season. (Smith took offense at where Soto was standing as he threw his warmup pitches; Soto homered off Smith and glared at the mound; Smith got mad — again — and drilled Soto with a pitch the following year.) The NL East rivals could squash their beef once and for all by teaming up in L.A.