PEORIA, Ariz. – Look at Juan Soto’s stats. How much more do you need?
These numbers, over a 24-year season, hold up pretty well historically to almost everyone. His 160 home runs place him ninth at this age, tied with Albert Pujols. Since the end of World War II, Soto has the best on-base percentage at .421 among those with at least 2,000 plate appearances, followed by Pujols (.413), Mickey Mantle (.412) and Mike Trout (.405). ).
So I was looking for more than a numerical explanation from Soto when I stopped by Padres camp to basically ask him how he came up with those numbers.
“The one thing that really impressed me on the field was seeing a guy who never gave up at bat,” said Mike Shildt, who served as an advisor to the Padres the past two years before to become a manager. “You talk about getting numbers, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be around top players like Albert and Goldie (Paul Goldschmidt) and those guys, no matter what the situation, they treat their sticks like ‘gold. Juan is like that.
Soto was traded from the Nationals to the Padres on August 2, 2022. Then last December 7, as San Diego looked to reduce payroll and deepen the roster, he acquired five players (four pitchers) from the Yankees, who also received Trent Grisham, as they looked to bolster their disappointing offense with more punch/balance from the lefty.
“For (Soto), it starts with plate discipline,” Padres starter Joe Musgrove said. “The guys who control the zone the best are the hardest to throw. As pitchers, we ultimately want to throw as few strikes as possible to get a guy out – a guy chasing is an easier out. You don’t have to enter the zone to do this. (Soto) is very good at getting the count, but even when he’s behind in the count, he’s not afraid to take two strikes and get back into a count. I can’t tell you how many 0-2 counts he knocked down last year, and then you get to the plate and he’s a big threat. It seems like he has a plan every day in which he’s going to take at least one walk and a few meetings with you.
Soto had an MLB-high 11 walks after falling behind 0-2 last year, and only Minnesota’s Edoaurd Julien had a higher walk percentage on an 0-2 count , 10.8 against 9.2 for Soto.
“Every fight with Juan is an absolute war. It’s a battle, whether it’s the first round or the ninth, and your team wins by 10 points; he still treats every pitch like Game 7 of the World Series,” Padres general manager AJ Preller said. “That’s 162 games and 600 at-bats. It’s a special trait. And I think the Yankees will feed off that, to see someone who treats every pitch like that.
When Preller mentions 162 games, he means 162 games. Soto has only been on the IL once – for two weeks in 2021 for a shoulder sprain. Since his debut in 2018, Soto has played in 778 games, ranking seventh, including being one of four players to play in 162 games last year.
“He posted every game,” Shildt said. “There were days he didn’t feel well and he wouldn’t allow Bob (Melvin, now former Padres manager) to take him out of the lineup. Think about it: you post every day, you get through the season, and you never give in to a stick. This is extremely impressive.
What about the downsides?
Fangraphs had Soto as the seventh-worst defensive outfielder last year and the 18th-worst baserunner.
Preller said: “His calling card is the offensive side of the game, and he understands that’s what you get. We asked him to play right field in 2022 and left field in 2023, and he’s working on his craft. He cares. He is detail-oriented. He is not a total liability on the field. He is more than capable. He’s been a good, solid outfielder and he’s going to be conscientious, and he’s going to continue to get better because he cares.
There’s also Joey Votto’s question of whether Soto is too passive at the plate, too absorbed in long counts and walks even in RBI situations. He hit .299 with a 1.016 OPS with runners in scoring position. But he also struck out 51 times (eighth in MLB, followed by Grisham with 50). Shildt called it “part of Juan’s identity” and warned those who would like the superstar to stay away from it.
The Padres were extremely underperforming last year, missing the playoffs with the same 82-80 record as the Yankees. A September article in The Athletic reported on the toxic feeling around the Padres that was widely discussed during the game. Soto wasn’t named in the story, but there was some rumor that — at a minimum — Soto didn’t come out of his island bubble to try to fit in and make things better.
Preller said: “To me, Juan has had many victories in his career, including a World Series (in 2019). He helped us get to the LCS (in 2022). I think he wants to fit in wherever he goes because he cares. He cares about his job and being good at it. It is serious. He’ll go where there’s an environment where there are a lot of players who really want to win, and he’ll do well.
New York Post