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Juan Soto: Low-A to MLB in 45 Days

On April 5th, Minor League Opening Day, I tuned into MiLB.TV to watch the Hagerstown Suns and Juan Soto face the Rome Braves and Kyle Muller. I specifically wanted to watch Soto’s at-bats against the large, 6’6″ and 225 pound, flame throwing lefty. In the very first inning, lead off hitter Cole Freeman started the game with a double down the right field line. A few pitches later, Luis Garcia weakly grounded out to Muller, bringing Soto to the plate. After watching a fastball off the plate, low and away, Soto received a belt-high fastball on the outside corner. Instead of trying to pull the ball, like many young hitters, he unleashed a quick, clean stroke, driving the ball the opposite way for a home run.

Today, just 45 days later, the Washington Nationals purchased the contract of the 19-year-old phenom. Climbing from Low-A to the major leagues in a year is rare; to do so in one and a half months is unheard of. How did we get here and what can we expect?

The Perfect Storm

Entering the season, the Nationals boasted a loaded, deep, star-studded outfield. In the majors, the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, manned right field; prized (and costly) acquisition, Adam Eaton, returning from a torn ACL, held down left field; and 2017 break out star, Michael Taylor, roamed center field. Meanwhile, elite prospect Victor Robles waited patiently in Double-A, with an expected mid-season promotion forthcoming. In addition to these four stud outfielders, the Nationals’ 40-man roster contained competent and talented outfield depth, including Brian Goodwin, Howie Kendrick, Andrew Stevenson, and Rafael Bautista.

For the Nationals, the 2018 season has played out like the plot of Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None.[1] Since early April, Eaton, Robles, Goodwin, Bautista, and Kendrick all suffered significant injuries. In fact, in the span of three days this week, the Nationals lost both Bautista and Kendrick to season-ending injuries. Following Saturday’s double-header sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, Kendrick’s injury, and the pressure inherent in a newly competitive NL East, the Nationals turned to their best prospect left standing, Juan Soto.

When Against Rome

Now, we return to a game between the Hagerstown Suns and the Rome Braves. This time, we travel farther back in time, to May 2, 2017. It is the bottom of the sixth inning. Rome is leading 2-0 behind third overall pick Ian Anderson. Carter Kieboom and Juan Soto lead off the inning with back-to-back doubles. Following a line drive single by Sheldon Neuse, Soto advances to third, refusing to challenge the strong arm of Cristian Pache. The very next batter flies out to Pache and, this time, Soto takes off. Pache fires a laser to home. There is a close play at the plate. A collision. Soto scores, tying the game!

This was Soto’s final game in Low-A during the 2017 season. After the collision, in which he became awkwardly tangled with Rome catcher Brett Cumberland, Soto left the game. Later, the Nationals diagnosed Soto with a fractured right ankle. Prior to the injury, he was hitting .360/.427/.523 with more walks (10) than strikeouts (8) in 23 games in Low-A at just 18 years old.

When Soto returned to action in Rookie ball in July, he lasted less than a week before another injury befell him. Surgery to remove the hamate bone from his right hand cost him the rest of July and all of August. Although briefly returning in September, Soto’s season was over.

Despite his abbreviated season, this Valentine’s Day, I described Soto as, “a shockingly, advanced and disciplined hitter for his age,” “[a] natural hitter with power to all fields,” and “a potential elite fantasy performer.” Specifically, I noted health is the only thing holding him back.

And Then There Was The One

In a year of disastrous injuries across nearly all levels of the Nationals’ organization, the oft-injured Juan Soto is healthy. Returning to Low-A this year, he picked up where he left off, destroying the level (.373/.486/.814) over 16 games. The Nationals quickly promoted Soto to High-A, where he nearly duplicated his outstanding Low-A performance over 15 games (.371/.466/.790).

On May 2nd, a year after Soto fractured his ankle, I provided a monthly outfield prospect update with him as the headliner, noting, “he has arguably been the most impressive player in the Minors, hitting for average, power, and discipline (15-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio).” His incredible April performance elevated him 25 spots in the updated Top 200 Fantasy Prospects.

On May 10th, barely a month into the season, the Nationals again promoted Soto. As the second youngest player in Double-A Eastern League, he has continued his torrid pace, hitting .323/.400/.581 over 8 games.[2] On the year, Soto leads the Minors with a .228 wRC+, with more walks (29) than strikeouts (28), while slashing .363/.462/.757 with 14 home runs across all levels. Most impressively, he combines the ability to make high levels of contact (7.6% swinging strikes) with consistently authoritative, powerful contact.

With all that said, what can we expect from Juan Soto? As a 19-year-old making his major league debut today, he joins rarefied company as a teenager in the majors. Further, making the jump from Low-A to the majors over just 45 days is a historic event. As the youngest player in the majors (sorry, Ronald Acuña!), Soto likely will experience some growing pains. Major league pitching is a far cry from Low-A pitching, or even Double-A pitching. However, he likely immediately enters the heart of a strong lineup (even after the injuries) and, as a natural, disciplined hitter, he may experience a smoother transition. Although it is unclear whether this promotion is permanent or temporary, owners in all league sizes and formats should run to add Soto, if available.

Please feel free to post comments, questions, or your own observations!

Follow me on Twitter @jaroche6 to keep up with notable daily developments!

[1] Ten little Nationals underwent offseason surgery;
One never recovered (Daniel Murphy) and then there were nine.

Nine little Nationals started on Opening Day;
One squat too much (Matt Wieters) and then there were eight.

Eight little Nationals running around;
One got booted (Adam Eaton) and then there were seven.

Seven little Nationals making diving catches;
One fell on his arm (Victor Robles) and then there were six.

Six little Nationals learning diving lessons;
One did not pay attention (Brian Goodwin) and then there were five.

Five little Nationals kicking around dirt;
One stubbed his toe (Anthony Rendon) and then there were four.

Four little Nationals trying to forget;
One remembered (his injury history – Ryan Zimmerman) and then there were three.

Three little Nationals caught in traffic;
One collided with another (Rafael Bautista) and then there were two.

Two little Nationals falling down;
A cart picked one up (Howie Kendrick) and then there was one.

One little National left all alone . . .

[2] The youngest player is, of course, the man, the myth, the legend, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Author

Jesse Roche

Jesse Roche

Jesse is an attorney, currently residing in Greensboro. An avid fantasy baseball player, Jesse has experience in a diverse range of leagues, including head-to-head, rotisserie, points, and simulation. Jesse is a five-time website-wide champion at Benchwarmer Baseball and a repeat champion of a dynasty league with John Sickels at Minor League Ball. With a specific interest in baseball prospects, Jesse plans to provide in-depth analysis of up-and-coming stars accessible to all league sizes and types.

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