Roaming right field for the Hagerstown Suns, Washington Nationals outfield prospect Juan Soto is showing the South Atlantic League that he isn't the least bit fazed by full-season ball. At age 18, Soto plays the game with skill and maturity beyond his years.
Signed by the Nationals in July 2015 for $1.5 million, Soto made his pro debut as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League and made it look easy. Playing in 45 games, he posted a .361/.410/.550 slash line and went down on strikes only 25 times (14 walks). Soto led the GCL in batting average and slugging percentage before a 5-game stint in the New York-Penn League with the Auburn Doubledays.
Having little reason to send him back to a level at which he dominated, the Nationals decided to see what he could do at Class-A with the Suns. So far, he looks to be on cruise control (.361 BA, 4 doubles, 3 homers, 12 RBI, 8 K in 83 AB), and the numbers only tell part of the story.
Soto's actions at bat and in the field appear very natural. His swing is quick and he takes a short path to the ball, generating gap power and some elevation. He doesn't seem to have trouble with off-speed offerings, making adjustments on the fly when needed.
Soto shows solid read-and-react hitting skills, demonstrating great hand-eye coordination in adjusting to the unexpected breaking pitch. As he continues to learn the game at the pro level, this should help to keep his strikeout totals relatively low while he maintains power. He squares up the ball easily, especially for a player of his age and experience.
On defense, Soto looks comfortable roaming the outfield. He is quick but not especially fast, typically taking consistent and efficient routes to fly balls. He has a solid arm, but not a prototypical right-field arm, and could end up in left as he climbs the ladder.
At 6'1”, 185, there is some projectability remaining for him physically. As he fills out a bit more he should develop at least ML-average power, and likely a bit more as long as he continues to barrel pitches as well as he does now.
If Soto feels any pressure about making the grade as a pro, you'd never know it. He's got a calm sense about him and draws high marks for his personality and coachability. He looks like he's enjoying himself out there, but at the same time appears to be quite aware of how fortunate he is to be a pro.
All told, we're talking about a lefty-batting teenager with present pop, in full-season ball, who profiles at least average in every category, and will probably produce above-average power numbers as an MLB outfielder. The Nats have plenty of time to let him develop, and they should take that time. I could see him making his MLB debut in 2020, but keep an eye on his progress, especially his power numbers after he gets a few months of Double-A ball under his belt. I expect that he won't be challenged until he gets to that level.