It’s an indelible image to Nats fans everywhere. Their prodigious young superstar Juan Soto stands in at the plate against a tough left-handed reliever in a big spot late in the game. He lays off a tough breaking ball low and away, his body leaning in toward the pitch. Then, while crouched over, he squares his body toward the pitcher, shuffling his feet while curling a small smile at the mound.
The “Soto Shuffle” is somehow both respectful and disrespectful, fun and serious, and lighthearted and cold-blooded.
“That started in the minor leagues,” Soto explained Wednesday when asked about his pitch-taking routine. “I like to get in the minds of the pitchers because sometimes they get scared. In the minor leagues some pitchers get scared, they say, ‘oh, wow,’ because [they’ve] never [seen] that before. I just try to get on their minds and all this stuff.”
Of course, young minor league pitchers are a little more likely than MLB All-Stars to be scared off by a little dance from an opposing batter, but that hasn’t stopped Soto from bringing the move to the big leagues. He has made an effort to pick his spots, though.
“I still do it here in the big leagues,” he continued. “A couple of the guys tell me, ‘hey, you can keep doing it, but do it in the right situation’ and that's what I'm trying right now. Because in those tight moments everybody's paying attention, everybody wants to get the job done and if you get a little bit of that and get a little bit comfortable with that, and confidence to get the job done, you get one step in front.”
Surprisingly, neither Fangraphs nor Baseball-Reference offer statistics for “Juan Soto at-bats in which he shuffles at the pitcher,” but anecdotally it sure feels like the young outfielder comes through in these big moments with regularity. He notably brought out the shuffle during his eventual game-winning at-bat in the eighth inning of this year’s Wild Card Game.
“It fuels my confidence,” Soto admitted. That confidence is clearly a crucial ingredient for any professional athlete, and Soto certainly isn’t the first player to find ways to psyche himself up in important moments.
The reactions from opposing pitchers can be varied. For Soto, most see it for what it is: Soto hyping himself up, not attempting to show up the pitcher.
So, who had the funniest reaction to the little dance?
“It was last year,” Soto answered when asked about the weirdest reaction he’d seen. “I did [it] against [current teammate Anibal] Sanchez and when I did it against him, he just started laughing on the mound. I mean, I start laughing too.”
Soto appreciated how Sanchez, then a member of the rival Atlanta Braves, had fun with it. In fact, it may have helped his now teammate, if you ask Soto.
“He just started laughing and he couldn't stop, he just kept going,” Soto continued while smiling. “He saw me and he just took that thing in the right way. And that was one of the pitchers that I never get a hit against him, because he just stayed relaxed and he just enjoyed it. He likes when I do this, so I start, I just stopped doing it against him, but he keeps going and he just started laughing at it. And when he don't pitch he just saw me in the dugout and he just started doing it to me, and I'm like, that was, that was the best reaction that I have received.”
The “Soto Shuffle” is a small move coming from a big-name player and something that Nationals fans everywhere love seeing in huge moments. Hopefully, for them, we haven’t seen the last of it in 2019.
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