Update Dec. 24, 2020:
On Dec. 5, 2020, under the headline “This young star is the next Ted Williams,” MLB.com’s Mike Petriello took a deep dive into Juan Soto’s performance through the 2020 season. (https://www.mlb.com/news/juan-soto-is-on-hall-of-fame-track) Nationals fans are well aware of how jaw-droppingly good Soto has been since his debut, but it was great to see him get some attention on a prominent platform and from a respected analyst.
As Petriello noted, just 67 players in the majors have had 1,000 or more plate appearances before they turned 22, the age Soto reached on Oct. 25. Twenty-five of them are in the Hall of Fame, two who are still active – Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera — are sure-shot inductees and two others – Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez — are pretty good bets. That list does not include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Ronald Acuna Jr., each of whom could be on their way to Cooperstown, too.
Soto, the 2020 N.L. batting champion and leader in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS, “was simply the best hitter in the game this year,” Petriello wrote, “ahead of [MVP] Freddie Freeman, by a Statcast metric that combines amount of contact (strikeouts and walks) with quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle.)”
Soto’s career start tops all other player in Expos/Nationals history. His .415 OBP at this point is better than anyone else in franchise history. As Petriello concluded: “No one has ever started this well and not found themselves in Cooperstown.”
Then on Dec. 23, MLB.com’s Andrew Simon, under the headline “Juan Soto gets Ruthian,” talked up the young slugger’s 2020 stats, especially his 212 OPS+, a figure that only Williams, Mickey Mantle, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have reached in a full season. Since 1900, as Simon noted, the only other players to have led their league in batting average, on base percentage and slugging over a full season are Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Bonds and Williams.
Two of the 67 players who got up more than 1,000 times before they turned 22 played for the original Washington Senators franchise: Cecil Travis and Buddy Lewis, both of whom had their careers interrupted in their prime by World War II. Each missed more than three seasons while serving our country with distinction. In the case of Travis, a war injury left him a lesser player when he returned. Still, he ended up with a .314 lifetime batting average and a .370 on-base percentage.
Lewis, a pilot who flew C-47 transports in 369 mission against the Japanese, admitted that his war experience made him less enthusiastic about baseball when he returned. He walked away from the game for a year at age 30 and retired for good when he was 33. A two-time all-star, he finished with a .297 career average and a .368 OBP.
Barring injury, Soto is headed for superstar status, if in fact he isn’t there already. His power, the way he hit breaking balls – better than anybody in the game last season, Petriello reported – and his knowledge of the strike zone are just a few of his superior qualities at the plate. Because he spreads out the way he does with two strikes, he is as dangerous with the count in the pitcher’s favor as anyone in the game today.
A pleasure to watch, the Dominican-born Soto obviously enjoys playing. Matching Ted Williams, arguably the game’s greatest pure hitter, would put Soto in rare company. He’s off to a tremendous start. Thank goodness he is a National. Let’s hope he earns another World Series ring or two in Washington.