The Washington Nationals have another phenom on their hands, some 19-year-old kid who has been turning heads with a smooth left-handed swing where the ball is rocketed off the bat.
If this was 2012, you could have mistaken the player being mentioned as Bryce Harper, a future Rookie of the Year and MVP. But it’s 2018, and Juan Soto has produced as much hype in the early going as Harper did six years ago. The casual fan might not recognize Soto’s name in the same way they did Harper’s, but mark my words: you won’t forget the name by year’s end.
There was concern the Nationals’ window for playoff contention was closing. Sure, they had their pitching core of Scherzer and Strasburg, but Bryce Harper stands on the cusp of free agency and there’s no guarantee he’ll remain in Washington. Considering the Nationals have ended each of their last four playoff appearances dating back to 2012 with a Division Series elimination, and many would think Harper would want to go somewhere more successful in October.
If that’s the case, then Soto stands as Harper’s heir apparent in more ways than one. His scouting report marks him as a hitter destined for the middle of the lineup, with a swing consistent enough to contend for batting titles and above-average power, and if the scouting report and current MLB slash line of .312/.404/.571 isn’t evidence enough that this kid is a pure hitter, perhaps this bit of information will: he started the year at Single-A, progressed to Double-A after 15 games, and jumped to the majors after eight games.
He skipped all of Triple-A as a 19-year-old.
So the Nationals have to be feeling good about their current situation. If Harper walks, Soto can take his place in Washington as the electric left-handed slugger in the heart of the lineup. Will he replicate Harper’s MVP season of 42 home runs and a .330 average? Perhaps one day, but that 2015 season was only one of two years where Harper hit over .300. For all of Harper’s potential, his durability has been his greatest flaw.
Can Soto be a hitter of similar caliber? There’s no reason to think otherwise. His power and hit tools are both graded at 60 out of 80 by the MLB, and already in his short time at the major league level, he’s shown bat control and a keen eye with a walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB/K) at .71.
It should also be noted that Soto isn't the top-rated prospect in the Nationals' system. That honor belongs to Victor Robles, another outfielder who is said to possess a five-tool skillset. So, if Soto continues to blossom at his current pace, and Robles develops into the player scouts believe he's destined to be, is that enough to entice Harper to remain a National?
The Washington Nationals and their fanbase should be excited. Juan Soto is the real deal; not by mere happenstance is a 19-year-old expedited through the system and given meaningful at-bats with a team trying to catch the Atlanta Braves for first place.
But the fans should be excited as the Nationals' future is looking bright once again. If Harper walks, Soto can become the new face of the franchise in a league that is growing increasingly younger. And if Harper stays, then they can boast two prolific, potent power-swinging southpaws at the heart of their lineup as they seek to reclaim status as the beast of the NL East.
42% of the season has been completed. Soto's name and swing will be known throughout the league if it hasn't already. There will be an adjustment period, a moment of uncertainty as the young kid navigates his way after being thrust into a man's game.
But talent always flourishes under pressure, and Soto has 94 games left to prove just how real the hype, and the talent, really is.
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