WASHINGTON -- On July 1, Juan Soto went 0-for-6 during the Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Phillies in 13 innings, in the midst of an 0-for-10 stretch across two games. It was perhaps the only point during Soto's spectacular rookie season that could be classified as a mini-slump. And he was devastated.
"He thought the world was going to end; he really did," hitting coach Kevin Long said.
"In the Minor Leagues, I don't have days like that," Soto said.
Soto has spent so much time making it look easy while punishing opposing pitching staffs that it was almost as if this was the first time he realized it might not be so simple.
Rather than dwell on it, Soto tried his best to forget about it. To keep his mind off his at-bats after games, he goes back to his home in D.C. and watches something funny before bed, usually a stand-up comedy (Kevin Hart is a favorite) or one of his favorite Spanish comedies (Raymond y Miguel or Boca de Piano).
"I just learned how to control those days, stay positive, come back the next day," Soto said. "That helps me on that day. I started learning about staying positive and coming back the next day."
The next day, Soto reached base four times against the Red Sox, going 1-for-2 with three walks. He has not gone hitless for longer than two games in the Majors all season.
Soto is already putting up record-setting numbers for a teenager, hitting .290/.413/.522 with 15 home runs -- one homer behind Ken Griffey Jr. for the fifth-most in MLB history before a player's 20th birthday. Soto will likely spend the final weeks of the season in a tight race for the National League Rookie of the Year Award with Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr.
But it is Soto's ability to make adjustments from day to day, in between at-bats or even as quickly as in between pitches that has made his coaches and teammates marvel.
"I've been doing this a long time," Long said. "Hall of Famers, MVPs -- he's as gifted as any of them. And that's as high a compliment as I can give somebody. I really think he's that special. I really feel like his swing is perfect. His strike zone is off the charts. He'll have some at-bats, go through a 10-at-bat stretch, where he looks human, and then, because of his swing and because of his strike zone, he never gets too out of whack."
How did Soto build a "perfect" swing?
He has accrued bits and pieces of hitting advice from a number of different places. He likes where Bryce Harper's hands are positioned when he loads before he swings. The rookie pays attention to Daniel Murphy's two-strike approach and how often he swats the ball the other way. Soto watches video of other hitters such as Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo and even Acuna.
Although Soto's time through the Nationals system has been brief, he has collected some valuable knowledge from each hitting coach along the way.
In the Gulf Coast League, Jorge Mejia helped Soto create a routine and taught him the value of taking walks. At Class A Hagerstown, Amaury Garcia showed Soto situational hitting. Luis Ordaz helped Soto with his timing and taught him when to be aggressive or when to be patient at High A Potomac. In Double A, Brian Rupp taught Soto how to never forget the fastball, but to be ready for a heavy dose of off-speed pitches. And Long has given Soto confidence.
"In every level, I've learned something," Soto said.
"I really think he actually processes things really really fast," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "That's what makes him who he is. And when he does that, he'll go through moments or a day where he's 0-for-4, and the next day he'll say, 'Hey, I really got to stay up the middle,' or 'My head's flying,' and he'll make those adjustments like that.
"I'm sitting there listening to him, and I'm thinking to myself, '[At] 19, he has a plan every time he goes up there.' It's not just throughout an at-bat, it's almost every pitch, and it's pretty impressive."
Both Martinez and Long say they have never seen a player take criticism and information as well as Soto does and then apply it as quickly as he does. Martinez compared that ability to Michael Trout, who has become famous for how quickly he covers up any relative flaws in his game.
Last Monday in St. Louis, Long noticed Soto was standing too tall in his batting stance, so he showed the rookie some video from earlier in the season. Later in the game, Long noticed Soto crouched about five or six inches. He hit an opposite-field home run in the seventh inning.
"He came back and he's like, 'Thank you so much. 'I'm like, 'You're amazing, dude,'" Long recalled with a laugh. "There are 20-year veterans who can't make adjustments as quickly as he does."
After Soto went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against the Cubs on Aug. 11, Long went to check on him after the game to see how he was handling it. He saw a different Soto than the one about a month prior.
"He goes, 'Oh, I'm good, I know tomorrow I'm going to come back and I'll be fine. It's just not my day,'" Long said. "That's the maturity of Juan Soto."