David Ortiz praises Nationals star Juan Soto: 'He's seven years ahead of me'
Big Papi is very impressed with Soto's confidence at the plate
For my money, the most impressive young hitter in the game today is Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. The 21-year-old is a .287/.403/.535 career hitter with 56 home runs in two MLB seasons. His 187 walks are the most ever for a player through his age-20 season, and his 1.24 K/BB ratio is the lowest for a player with at least 1,000 plate appearances through his age-20 season since Hall of Famer Al Kaline in the 1950s.
Soto was outstanding during Washington's World Series run last year, hitting .277/.373/.554 in the postseason and .333/.438/.741 with three home runs in the World Series. He clubbed a monstrous go-ahead home run off Justin Verlander in Game 6 that landed more than halfway up the second deck in right field at Minute Maid Park. To the action footage:
That home run — Soto's entire postseason, really — impressed another prodigious left-handed slugger from the Dominican Republic: David Ortiz. Ortiz showered Soto with praise during a recent interview. Here's the transcript:
"This kid, last year in the playoffs, in the World Series, he was facing Verlander — I'm right there in the studio narrating and watching everything with Fox, we have a screen there with which we can even see the acne — I'm noticing the body language of this kid, a (21) years old kid. At this point Verlander threw a high fastball that was king of high, then the catcher starts arguing with the umpire because you know Verlander likes to throw the ball in the high zone …
And during this argument Soto got in and he said, 'Tell him to throw it a bit lower and I'll show him where's the strike zone' … Believe me, I was watching all of that. Then Verlander threw the pitch he was asking for and Soto almost got the ball way out of the stadium. In my language, as a guy who played baseball professionally for 20 years … I learned that confidence this kid already has at 21 years old, I got that confidence at about 28 years old. He's seven years ahead of me."
Ortiz, as a reminder, spent his age-20 season in High Class-A, where he hit .322/.390/.511 with 18 home runs in 129 games. He hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers in 150 games in his age-28 season, his second season with the Red Sox. Soto hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 homers in 150 games in the big leagues in his age-20 season, so yes, he's already where Ortiz was at 28. Goodness.
Only four players in history batted at least 1,000 times through their age-20 season and posted an OPS at least 40 percent better than the league average: Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, and Soto. Three inner-circle Hall of Famers and a precocious present day slugger who, if you didn't know any better, would make you think he was a 10-year vet given the quality of his at-bats.
Big Papi's praise carries a lot of weight — that man knows plenty about confidence and hitting — and it is entirely warranted. Soto is as special as any young hitter to come along in a very long time.