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Giolito relieved to begin career with Nats

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Giolito relieved to begin career with Nats

When Lucas Giolito took his seat in the dugout for his first in-person media availability since signing a contract with the Washington Nationals, he opened the session with a genuine, wow. He had never been faced with so many cameras and microphones before and at times didnt know where the questions were coming from.

But the attention that comes with being a big league player and the lifestyle they live is something that sold the 18-year-old flamethrower on signing the deal and becoming the newest high-ceiling young arm in the Washington organization. He envied the way they go about their day-to-day business and how they interact as members of a team.

Giolito visited both the Nationals and the campus of UCLA in the time between the June 4 MLB Draft and July 13, the deadline to sign draft picks. He said he pitched in front of Bruins head coach John Savage and enjoyed the experience, but an early July trip to Washington, D.C. helped seal the deal.

I got the chance to come here and meet some of the guys and see the city. I think D.C. is one of the best cities Ive ever been to, he said. It is unreal, being able to see the monuments and being able to meet certain people it is really cool.

Giolito and the Nationals reached an agreement seconds before the 5 p.m. deadline on July 13. It was another last-minute contract reached by the Nationals who have been there before with recent draft picks. But while Mike Rizzo and the Nats have done it before, Giolito had no such experience.

The last couple of minutes got a little hectic, I got a little nervous there, but for the most part it went really well and Im glad it all worked out in the end, he said.

It is a huge relief to get everything done on that side of things, now I get to put all my focus on rehabbing things and getting better and making my way up through the system.

Giolito slipped up several times by implying he was already part of the team, but at 18 he may not see the big leagues very soon. He will begin the road to the show on July 18 as he travels to Viera, FL to begin his professional career as Rizzo put it.

The Nats general manager expounded on their plan:

Were going to assess him on the mound. He will have a mound progression, a throwing progression with Spin Williams and Steve Gober, our rehab coordinator down there, he said.

Well take his existing rehabilitation plan and coordinate that with our pitching coordinator and rehab coordinator and create a new plan for him and a timetable to see his progression go from flat ground and long toss to getting him on a mound and hopefully he sees some competition if not during the regular season but in the instructional league.

Giolito sprained his ulnar collateral nerve in his elbow earlier this year, an injury he is still recovering from. It may have affected his draft stock, but Giolito said it played no role in him deciding to sign and forego his college career.

It feels really good right now, the rehab has been going really well and the elbow feels really strong, he said. And my arm feels really strong. I feel really good about pitching really soon and well see how it goes.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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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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USA TODAY Sports

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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