Written by: Zachary Volland (@_5Tool_Baseball) and Ray Butler
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Mechanical Breakdown (By: Zachary Volland)
At last! The emergence of Juan Soto has officially begun. Last season was a tough one for Soto, who spent most of 2017 on the disabled list thanks to a Hamate bone break, a wrist injury and a hamstring injury. When he was healthy, Soto made an impact with the bat. He slashed .351/.415/.505 in only 123 plate appearances between rookie ball and Low-A. This season, a healthy Soto has already dominated the South Atlantic League and earned himself a promotion to High-A Potomac. He’s slashed .366/.476/.812 with 24 R, 10 HR, 38 RBI and 2 SB in 124 PA. He’s averaged over an RBI per game he’s played. He’s walked more times than he’s struck out. He won’t turn 20 until October.
Soto can hit. Well, saying he can hit is probably a colossal understatement. Soto can mash. He’s 6’1, 185 lbs. and has room to add some muscle as he grows and matures, which means, on paper, he should gain even more pop over time. Soto has a very advanced approach in the batter’s box for being just 19 years old and having so few professional plate appearances. He takes pitches and works counts. Unlike so many talented, teenage professional players, he’s not afraid to take a walk. Moreover, his swing is pretty short and sweet without much wasted energy. He hits from the left side with his hands started just above his shoulders. His swing features a short hand-load and weight transfer to the backside before his tiny leg kick. He gets good separation between his hips and hands and explodes. It’s a cliche, but the ball just sounds different when it leaves his bat. I think with time, he’ll add some loft to his swing and we’ll see his line-drive % climb. If I had to nitpick, I’d say he gets a little too pull happy, but I’d attribute this to being young and still needing additional polish to help him use all fields more often. And it’s not like Soto is incapable of driving the ball the other way: 31% of his hits have gone to LF or LC this season. Soto is an average runner and has been graded by multiple people and entities at 45. FanGraphs has him rated as a 45 runner and 50 fielder, which traditionally translates to a corner outfielder (and that’s not a bad thing whatsoever). From what I’ve seen, he moves pretty well and doesn’t make many mistakes out there (5 total errors on paper in his pro career).
Overall, I like everything about Juan Soto. I think he’ll blaze through the minor leagues and cement his place in Washington D.C. in right field, a position that will have been recently vacated by Bryce Harper, who opted to sign elsewhere in free agency. He needs to continue to prove his durability, but if good health abounds, Soto can leapfrog his way into the top 10 of most prospect lists as long as he continues hitting at a similar pace to how he’s performed so far this season.
Fantasy Outlook and ETA (By: Ray Butler)
An excerpt from my write up on Soto in my prospect list this preseason:
“Soto is a physical specimen with potential to hit 25 HRs annually without sacrificing on-base ability (just don’t expect the silly triple slash numbers he posted against lesser competition last season). Soto needs to prove his durability over the course of an entire regular season, but if he can maintain his statistical pace (or anywhere near it) while remaining healthy, we’re probably talking about a top 10 or 15 prospect before it’s all said and done.”
You can read my entire write up on Soto from my prospect list right here. Soto also made my 2018 Prospect Obsession list (published this preseason), and I wrote additional details on his outlook on that list as well.
I’ve been a fan of Juan Soto for a long time, but I’d be lying if I said I knew his hypothetical breakout would look like this. Soto has been perhaps the most dominant player in the minor leagues this season, hitting a home run every 12.4 plate appearances and scoring a run in nearly 20% of his PA. We knew almost immediately that South Atlantic League pitching was no match for the 19 year old, but arms in the Carolina League haven’t fared too much better since his promotion. When you consider that Soto is 3.5 years younger than the average age of his competition, his performance has been downright spectacular.
Juan Soto isn’t the 25 HR, high on-base player I projected him as this preseason. Instead, Soto is a 30-35 HR, high on-base player who can hit in the meat of a major league batting order for a decade.
Eventually, some sort of book on Soto will get around to opposing pitchers, and we’ll see the corner outfielder face (non injury-based) adversity for the first time in his professional career. Honestly, I’m ready to see what a 50-100 plate appearance slump looks like for Soto statistically (he has such great discipline for a player so young, he could reach base at an acceptable clip without hitting for much power even in the midst of an offensive valley).
We are in the midst of a big-time prospect breakout. Enjoy this. Take mental notes of what it looks like and find hidden gems with similar peripherals. Don’t take it for granted. Find the next Juan Soto before the industry does.
No, I don’t think it’s fair to mention Soto in the same breath as Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez and Fernando Tatis Jr. Yet. No, I don’t think Soto has a chance of making a big league debut this season. He only has 220 full-season plate appearances as a professional, for crying out loud.
Let Soto cook, and we’ll see what the numbers look like a few months from now. If he continues down the path he’s currently traveling, a mid-2019 big league debut certainly seems on the horizon. Assuming the throne recently (and at this point hypothetically) abandoned by Bryce Harper… no pressure, Juan!
Keep your fingers crossed for continued good-health and an eventual promotion to Double-A Harrisburg sometime this season. At this point, those might be the only things that could stop Juan Soto.
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Featured image courtesy of Minor League Baseball
Interested in other hot names in the prospect world? Check out Ray’s most-recent weekly column discussing this season’s rising minor league stars.