Nationals

Quick Links

What does Juan Soto's rookie season mean for the rest of his career?

juan-soto-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports

What does Juan Soto's rookie season mean for the rest of his career?

Juan Soto’s surprising debut season was one of the primary storylines, and few bright spots, for the Nationals in 2018. In fact, his historic rookie year was one of the biggest storylines in all of baseball.

We’ve addressed his incredible accomplishments before, but they're worth revisiting. As a reminder, Soto led Major League Baseball in opposite field home runs by a left-handed hitter this season, in addition to falling just two home runs shy of Tony Conigliaro’s teenage record of 24. He achieved both marks despite missing six weeks of the season while he was still in the minors.

Soto became the first teenage hitter to ever have an on-base percentage over .400, the only teenage hitter to ever walk 60 times in a season (he did so 79 times), and his wRC+ of 146 is the highest a teenager has ever had.

What’s even more impressive is that for many of the records Soto broke, the hitter he surpassed was Mel Ott, who had already played 117 games in the big leagues prior to his age-19 season. Soto barely played that many games as a professional, let alone at the highest level the game has to offer.

The question, then, is what does all this mean for the rest of his career? Is a historic rookie season a sign of certain future success? And what would be a reasonable expectation for the young slugger?

Frankly, it’s hard to say with any degree of certainty.

The most obvious first step in trying to project the rest of Soto’s career is to look at the other teenage hitters who broke out in a big way. Of course, most of the players listed played in entirely different eras, or were completely different types of hitters, or both. Still, the list of names is interesting.

wRC+ is a stat we’ve referenced before, but for those who don’t know, it’s an all-encompassing metric for a hitter’s value at the plate. A 100 is league average, and every number above 100 is a percentage better than average. So, Juan Soto’s 146 means he was 46% better than an average Major League hitter in 2018.

By wRC+, the best teenage hitters in baseball history before 2018 include Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Ty Cobb, Bryce Harper, Sherry Magee, Johnny Lush, Mickey Mantle, Cesar Cedeno, and Edgar Renteria.

That’s obviously an up-and-down group. Ott, Cobb and Mantle are inner-circle Hall of Famers. Harper is on their level from a talent perspective. Lush and Conigliaro had entirely forgettable careers.

Magee, Renteria, and Cedeno each had extremely valuable careers, providing 30-50 Wins Above Replacement each. That means that of the nine players behind Soto in teenage wRC+, one third were among the greatest players of all-time, one third were classic “Hall of Very Good” players, and one third were either disappointments or are still early in their careers.

Those numbers bode extremely well for Soto’s future. Obviously far less than 33% of baseball players make the Hall of Fame, so being in this elite class of young hitters is very exciting. By the time all is said and done, it seems likely that 7 of the 9 will have accumulated at least 30 WAR, and 6 of the 9 will be above 50. That’s insanely good. 

Another interesting note is that simply by playing as a teenager, Soto’s odds of a historic career are pretty high. In the entire history of baseball, among all players who had 100 plate appearances before turning 20 years old, a whopping 24% of them ended up in the Hall of Fame. That’s completely ignoring how successful or not they were with those plate appearances. Soto had 494 plate appearances in 2018, well over the threshold of 100.

Looking at it historically, and comparing Soto to other players, the odds appear pretty good that Soto will be a high-impact player for more than a decade.

With many of those guys, the tools and talent meant that improvement could be expected. With Soto, what makes him so impressive, is that he already looks close to a finished product. He’ll probably end up accumulating some ridiculous counting stats, thanks to his early start, but expecting a leap in production as he enters his twenties would probably be foolhardy. He’ll improve as he gains experience, sure, but not by leaps and bounds. 

I know it seems crazy on the surface to say “this teenage prodigy won’t get that much better,” but odds are his peak seasons won’t look too different from his 2018.

Soto will eventually have to deal with sophomore slumps, pitchers adjusting to his tendencies, the burden of expectations, and the obstacle of staying consistent 600 times a year at the most difficult skills in sports. Ultimately, though, given the history of prodigious young talents at the plate, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he isn’t a major contributor in the lineup. 

He’s now set a baseline of something in the neighborhood of a .300/.400/.500 slash line, to go along with a 25 homer pace. The keen batting eye isn’t going away anytime soon, and based on his scouting profile and body type the power likely won’t fluctuate too much. His specific skill set will always provide a high floor and consistency. He may never win an MVP, but he could easily end up playing in a dozen All-Star Games.

This is who he is, and he’s (probably) here to stay. If it plays out like the numbers say it will, which would jive with what talent evaluators have long projected and what fans experienced all summer long, then by the time his career is over, he may be the next D.C. baseball player to have a statue built of himself. You never want to project a young prospect to make the Hall of Fame one day, but right now, nothing seems impossible for Juan Soto.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

What’s next for Trea Turner? Running (a lot) more

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A few years back, Trea Turner went out for a slice of pizza. He was part of a small group hitting a spot in the DMV when the mayhem began. Other diners noticed the beard and well-coiffed hair, the wide shoulders and distinctive laugh. They had stumbled into a pizza shop occupied by Bryce Harper.

Turner was in the background. His wiry frame and boyish face allowed him to snap the moment and add to social media because he went unrecognized.

“I still go under the radar quite a bit, so I don’t have to deal with that,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Sometimes I’m not jealous. Going out in public places and not being able to have a normal meal, normal slice of pizza is not always fun. If you get recognized you’re doing something right, though, in my mind. It’s kind of a plus and minus.

“Everyone deals with it different. Some people don’t want to be in the spotlight. Some people do. I think it just depends who you are. Just be yourself. Be happy and be yourself. if somebody does recognize me, try to enjoy that and say hello and do everything you can to kind of share in that experience, if they don’t, I get a chance to be by myself.”

Recognition of Turner was expected two seasons ago. Early 2017 projections for National League MVP candidates included him as an option, if a distant one. A late-June, 96-mph fastball hit his wrist, fracturing it. Turner’s season stalled.

He’s settled in now, coming off a season where he played all 162 games. His 4.1 WAR in 2018 was a significant return on his $3.725 million salary. Turner is 25 years old, arbitration eligible for the next three years, and part of what has become a dynamic swindle by Mike Rizzo. Turner arrived as the player to be named later in a three-team deal which cost the Nationals outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Souza has produced 5.8 WAR since; Turner 10.6. That doesn’t include Joe Ross, also acquired in the trade, in the equation.

Turner is searching for further uptick in his value this season. Nationals manager Davey Martinez wants Turner to reach 70, 80, even 90 steal attempts. Running that often has become an outlier. Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield led MLB with 55 stolen base attempts last season.

If Turner has a stock line, it’s that, “You can’t steal first base.” So, he starts there when asked about such an ambitious attempts total. He adds his hitting approach needs to remain quality and patient. The latter can often be a fight for him. Turner grapples with each hitter’s constant struggle: when to be patient, when are you too patient and into a bad count because of it, when to just let it loose. Turner hit a career-high 19 homers last season. But, his on-base percentage was .344.

Once he reaches first, whether to go is can be a matter of situation or flow.

“I think the score dictates a lot of things,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Last year, we were behind quite a bit in games, so it’s hard to steal bases -- you don’t want to give them an extra out. I think the season dictates that. If we play good baseball, there will be a lot of opportunities for everyone across the board. We’ll see, is my answer. I would like to attempt 80 or 90.

“For me, it’s very fluid,” Turner continued. “Just like hitting would be or fielding would be. Sometimes you go through funks where sometimes, ‘Oh, I don’t feel good stealing base.’ Sometimes you feel like you can steal off anybody. For me, it’s very fluid, it’s just like the other facets of the game. I think when you get older you learn when to push it or pull back based on the score of the game or what your coach would like you to do.”

Referencing the coach made Turner smile. This manager wants him to go. Often.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Bryce Harper is going to sign with a team any minute now, right?

The momentum for him finally inking a deal somewhere is real with Manny Machado agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres Tuesday. But when it comes to matching that or beating it for Harper, according to a report from MLB.com, the Nationals have no interest in playing.

Before the end of the 2018 season, the Nats presented Harper and his agent Scott Boras a 10-year, $300 million offer to which they declined. That deal appears to be no longer on the table. From MLB.com:

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club.

This week at Spring Training, the Nationals said they were operating with the team they have now. In the offseason, they made a number of other big moves - including signing marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin - that leave their roster in good shape even if Harper doesn't come back.

According to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, Harper is believed to have turned down multiple offers over $300 million in recent weeks with the Phillies, San Francisco Giants and the Nats still in the mix.

But according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale, the Padres are out of the Harper sweepstake completely. 

Whether or not Harper gets a long-term deal like Machado's with Philly remains to be seen. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told MLB.com he doesn't want to spend all the team's money in one place. 

"We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason," he said. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

If Harper does ink a deal with the Phillies close to the offer Rizzo and the Nats presented him with, don't expect the 26-year-old to receive a warm welcome when the Nats host the Phillies April 2-3.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: