Juan Soto

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Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

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Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

Despite a surprising, impressive and historic start to Juan Soto's career in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals' young star finished as the runner-up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Ronald Acuña Jr. and ahead of finalist Walker Buehler, the league announced Monday.

For the Nationals' rising star who didn't shed his teenager status until after Washington's season ended, finishing second behind another similarly impressive player doesn't diminish his record-breaking accomplishments throughout the 2018 season -- so many of them related to being a 19-year-old rookie.

After the Nats called Soto up in the spring, he made his debut in the majors on May 20, quickly becoming famous for both his power and consistency and drawing countless comparisons to teammate Bryce Harper. He broke or tied too many records to list here -- but you can find them on NBC Sports Washington -- so we're highlighting the biggest.

He finished his rookie year with a .292 batting average, slugging at .517 and racking up 22 home runs, 70 RBI and 79 walks -- the most by a teenager in MLB history which also made him the only teenager with more than 60 walks in a single season.

Both the highest for a teenager in MLB history, Soto finished with a .406 OBP -- he's also the only teenager to break .400 -- and a .923 OPS, which put him second and third, respectively, among all NL hitters. He became the first teenager to finish with a slash line of at least .290/.400/.500 and the first rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 to do it, according to MLB.com.

His three multi-home run games are the most by a teenager in MLB history, as are his multi-walk games (16). Soto also racked up 22 home runs this season, which tied Harper for second by a teenager, behind Tony Conigliaro with 24.

Soto started the 2018 season with the Class A Hagerstown Suns before getting bumped up to the Potomac Nationals (Class A-Advanced) and the Harrisburg Senators (Double-A) on his way to the majors.

With the Braves playing in the postseason before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, 20-year-old Acuña finished his rookie year with a slash line of .293/.366/.552, having a slight advantage over Soto in both batting average and slugging percentage. He also had the edge over the Nats rookie in home runs (26) and hits (127 vs. 121).

Winning the NLCS with the Dodgers before falling the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, Buehler was the lone pitcher in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The 24-year-old right-hander finished his first season with a 2.62 ERA on an 8-5 record. He struck out 151 batters and gave up 12 home runs.

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

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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.

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Juan Soto is no longer the best teenager in baseball

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Juan Soto is no longer the best teenager in baseball

Juan Soto is no longer baseball's best teenager.

The Nationals' young phenom took the National League by storm in 2018, finishing the season with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, all while batting .292 in 494 plate appearances.

When Soto made his debut on May 20, 2018, he was 19 years and 207 days old. He set a bevy of records and etched his name into multiple pages of the MLB history books.

But again, he's no longer baseball's best teenager. But there's a perfectly good explanation.

Juan Soto celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, Oct. 20, meaning Soto is no longer a "teen." Although he still cannot purchase alcohol, Soto is moving up the ranks.

So while we can no longer call him "baseball's best teenager, we can begin referring to him as baseball's best 20-year old.

Yes, we're well aware that it doesn't roll off the tongue. 

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