The 2020 MLB season began without Juan Soto due to a positive COVID-19 test. So while the rising star waited for clearance to play, other young phenoms like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. owned the spotlight.
In a "what have you done for me lately" sport, the debates on which player a team should start a franchise with didn't always include Soto. While the praise for Tatis and Acuna is more than justified, MLB Network analyst and former MLB player Bill Ripken did not want the world to forget just how talented the Nationals outfielder is.
Not only do his 2020 stats, which include a .382 batting average and .475 on-base percentage help the argument, but Ripken also noted that Soto's entire body of work in his young MLB career is full of accomplishments it sometimes takes others years to achieve.
“I put a tape together here and said, ‘Are we forgetting that Soto’s swing off of Hader got them through the wild card game?'" Ripken said on the Nationals Talk Podcast. "'Are we forgetting the homers he hit off of Verlander, the homers he hit off of Cole, the homer he hit off of Clayton Kershaw?’"
Being able to come out victorious in battle with the talented arms mentioned above is impressive no matter the circumstances. However, it's important to note that Soto did everything mentioned during the Nationals' 2019 World Series run. In the biggest moments against the biggest names, Soto delivered more often than not.
That postseason success is another reason as to why Ripken believes the outfielder to be in -- and potentially dominate -- the conversation about the next stars of the game. With no slight to Tatis, Acuna and others, Soto is the only one of the group that has helped his team reach the promised land, and he did it before he could legally have a drink.
“This guy at 21 has already done it on the right stage, the big stage," Ripken said. "I just wanted to remind people that this dude is really, really good.”
Going beyond his track record, Ripken continues to see Soto propel himself toward stardom. Even when it's not Game 7 of the World Series, Ripken says one wouldn't be able to tell based on how Soto acts when he steps up to the plate.
"Every at-bat he has at home plate, no matter what the game is, what the score is, it looks like this dude is grinding," Ripken said. "And it’s really fun to watch because his talent is as good as anybody’s in the game right now.”
In the baseball news cycle, Tatis is currently the belle of the ball, and it's not just because he swang at a 3-0 pitch. Leading the National League in almost every statistical category on offense, he deserves the attention he gets. Soto himself is a close friend of Tatis, and he's always been one to share praise for the shortstop.
Yet, on the east coast, Soto is doing equally incredible things on a nightly basis. Based on his past, present and future, Ripken sees no reason as to why Soto shouldn't have all eyes on him as well.
“I see one of the best, young talented players in the game.”