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Washington Nationals: A first look at Juan Soto

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Victor Robles may be the top prospect in the Nationals system, but 19-year-old Juan Soto is not far behind.

Wayne Cavadi | Minor League Ball

ROME, GA — The Washington Nationals elite prospect Juan Soto was sent back to Low-A Hagerstown to start 2018 after an injury ruined his 2017 full-season debut. His first swing of the season was an awe-inspiring home run. My first look of Soto was a good one to say the least.

The skinny

Soto is the best prospect in the Nationals system not named Victor Robles. He signed before the 2015 season out of the Dominican Republic for $1.5-million and a year later, he began to fill the trophy cabinet.

The then-17-year-old won the Gulf Coast League MVP award in his stateside debut. Soto slashed .361/.410/.550 with 11 doubles and five home runs, striking out 25 times and walking 14 in his first 45 professional games. He set the bar high and has had little trouble continuing to reach it.

He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, but looks a little bigger in the box. That could be to some bulk in his muscles, but anyway you look at it, he uses his size well. Just 19, he could even add some more.

Last season, Soto broke almost everything in his leg against the Rome Braves on May 2. He returned in September to the GCL for nine games to wrap up an otherwise lost year.

The player

Soto has a quick bat and strong hands. He is fun to watch in batting practice, and really has a pretty simplistic swing. His hands start helmet high and drop to his shoulders as he muscles his smooth left-handed swing through the zone. His toes are pointed in and he doesn’t take much of a step into the ball.

One thing to notice (as you can gather from the header photo) is that his stance is a little more wide in live play versus batting practice. He also has a bit of a curl pre-pitch, but that doesn’t stop him from getting around on the ball at all.

Soto saw two pitches in his first at bat. The first he took for a ball. The second he sent opposite field over the left field wall. It was a decisive shot as well, gone the second it left the bat. I haven’t seen many, if any, home runs since starting to cover the South Atlantic League three years ago as impressive. The speed and strength in which his bat connected, paired with the ability to take a fastball the other way is certainly something that proves his lofty prospect ranking.

He did strike out twice, so may have a little swing-and-miss in him, but his strikeout totals have never been at an alarming rate in his (albeit brief) career. Soto did struggle against Thomas Burrows in his final at bat, but to be fair, Burrows seems like a Double-A pitcher, so to see a 19-year-old struggle is not necessarily a negative. Burrows is a sidearmer, with a big lefty hook. He got Soto checking his swing on a strike and then sat him down on this:

Soto has speed and can navigate the bases well, but there is little reason to think he is a potential 20/20-type of guy. The power and hit-tool are the prized possessions to Soto’s skill set. He was in right field on Thursday night, which is where he seems to have settled in. Though I personally wasn’t able to see anything to pass judgement, most feel his arm is average at best. But with good range and a big bat, he should be just fine in the corner outfield position.

Soto is back and looks plenty healthy. His swing is something to watch and enjoy. He is ready for the next level, but the always patient Nationals started him slowly coming off injury. I would expect him to make the jump no later than May if he can stay healthy and hit.