Say what you want about Barry Bonds' steroid use, but his numbers speak for themselves. Statistically speaking, he is the most impressive hitter in MLB history.
And on Monday, his name was evoked in comparison to one of the most impressive hitters in the game today - Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
It's a crazy comparison, mentioning a 22-year old player in the same sentence as baseball's all-time home run king. But what's even crazier is that it might actually be a fair comparison.
"I played with Barry Bonds, and I watched him take pitches I obviously would have never taken," Martinez told MLB Network Radio when asked who Soto reminds him of at the plate. "For me, the way [Soto] takes pitches, the way he’s engaged on every pitch, it’s incredible. Especially for a 22-year old."
Soto led baseball with a jaw-dropping .490 on-base percentage in 2020. Even in a shortened season, getting on base in just about half of your at-bats is bonkers. And history supports that - nobody had even come close to that high since - who else? - Barry Bonds in 2004, when he set a record with a .609 OBP.
Bonds' power numbers and ability to play well so late into his career may have been boosted from steroid use, but you can't take any drug to give you the best batting eye in baseball history. And though he'll never match Bonds' power, speed or glove, Soto appears to be blessed with the same gift at the plate.
The only difference? Bonds set his records after years of experience watching pitchers and better understanding the game. Soto is doing it as a 22-year old.
"He’s way above the curve, he really is," Martinez said. "He studies the game, he understands the game. He understands who he is, and what he’s trying to do every single pitch. And he doesn’t waste any at-bats. Before each game I always talk to him, I go ‘Hey, what’s the plan for today?’ ‘Full line drives up the middle.’ That’s all he ever tells me. Full line drives up the middle. And I have to remind him take your walks. And he goes ‘Yep, I’ll take my walks.’ He’s good. Like I said, he’s got a plan every time he steps up there. And he just wants to do well for his teammates."
Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter in baseball history. Juan Soto has an argument for the best hitter in baseball right now, but he's probably still behind Mike Trout, at least, if not also a couple of other All-Stars. But he's in the conversation, which would be an incredible enough feat on its own at his age.
But to be (reasonably) compared to Bonds? At this age? It's this type of talk that has fans envisioning Soto in Cooperstown one day many, many years from now. And coming from his own manager, who sees him every day and also once played with Bonds, makes it even more impressive.