Juan Soto is Helping Keep the Nationals Afloat

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When you’re a 19-year-old kid, you’re finding your way in the world. Perhaps, you’re in college? But if you’re Juan Soto, you’re taking the baseball world by storm.

On May 19, Washington Nationals utility man, Howie Kendrick, tore his right Achilles — ending his season. In the wake of Kendrick’s injury, general manager Mike Rizzo promoted Soto from Double-A to the big leagues to fill the veteran’s roster spot. And ever since playing on a near-everyday basis, the outfielder has been helping keep the Nationals afloat.

The Atlanta Braves don’t appear to be going anywhere. They’re currently a game and a half ahead of the Nats (37-28) in the National League East, and they have one of the best and youngest lineups in baseball, as well as an evolving starting rotation. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Nats would play the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field in the National League Wild Card game — which this franchise would like to avoid, even though they could line up three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to start in that game. But without Soto, the Nats may not even be in this position.

Currently hitting .344 with a .447 on-base percentage to go along with five home runs and 12 RBIs, Soto has found no difficulty getting on base; he’s also been a disciplined hitter, currently owning a 12:11 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Soto has been a force to be reckoned with in manager Dave Martinez‘s lineup whether it be at the top or bottom of the order. And Wednesday night, Soto put together his most impressive performance at the plate this season when the Nats matched up against the New York Yankees. Hitting two home runs, recording one base on balls, and driving in four of the Nats’ five runs on the night, he was a monumental part of their 5-4 victory on the road — helping the Nats split the two-game series.

Soto has also been steady in the outfield. He’s yet to make an error, and has looked comfortable in left field; he’s a complete player.

Soto’s production at the plate is a huge lift for the Nats based on their inability, as a whole, to execute at a high level, or near what the league has become accustomed to seeing. While he’s driven in a team-high 43 runs, Bryce Harper is hitting just .224; Anthony Rendon is hitting .251; Michael Taylor is hitting .220; Wilmer Difo is hitting .241; Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .217 in the 33 games he’s played this season; Daniel Murphy is yet to record a hit since making his season debut Tuesday night in New York. And in terms of everyday players, shortstop Trea Turner has the highest batting average on the Nats at .258. In total, the Nats are 20th in runs scored (282) and 22nd in team batting average (.236). Without Soto, those totals and the general well-being of their offense would be much worse.

At just 19, Juan Soto has been a force to be reckoned with in an otherwise substandard @Nationals lineup.Click To Tweet

In fact, Soto’s early success is similar to when Trea Turner got the call up to the show in 2016. While he made his Major League Baseball debut on August 21 of the 2015 season, Turner never played an extended period of time with the Nats until the 2016 season. And when Turner was called up, he gave then-manager Dusty Baker no choice but to find a place in the lineup for him. Despite being a natural shortstop, Baker and the Nats opted to put Turner in center field to keep Danny Espinosa at the middle infield position, and the baby-faced speedster didn’t skip a beat. Hitting .342 to go along with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs, he had a knack for finding ways to get on base whether it be with his contact bat or legs. Stealing 33 bags in just 73 games, Turner was adept at wreaking havoc on the basepaths, and he held his own in the outfield.

Granted, Turner was not a natural outfielder, his call up to the big leagues wasn’t viewed as a promotion that would be franchise-altering — just like Soto. Plus, the two youngsters had little to no MLB-experience under their belt before getting called up.

Soto is 19; he’s poised to get into a slump at some point this season based on being so fresh on the scene. But the outfielder has shown that he has the potential to be a star player and a staple in the Nats order for years to come. The question will be how much trust is management willing to have in his ability to do as such?

With Harper hitting unrestricted free agency after this season, the Nats will be faced with the daunting decision as to whether to pull out all the stops to keep the homegrown product — in terms of dollar signs. If Harper’s price tag becomes absurd and/or he decides to leave the nation’s capital, Soto could potentially move over to right field and up in the order. Now, will Soto’s play be the reason why Harper stays or leaves? Of course not, but the youngster is certainly giving the Nats something to think about going forward and is likely penciling himself in as an everyday player for the remainder of this season — barring an epic slump.

The last National to make a profound impact when they were 19 years old was Harper in 2012. Six years later, Soto is following in Harper’s footsteps and is an immense reason for why their lineup has been, at the very least, respectable.

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