The final swing. The soaring bat flip. The elated burst of joy.
In a down-to-the-wire battle at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Monday, Soto bested José Ramírez, Albert Pujols and Julio Rodríguez to take home the championship trophy. Here are five things to know from Soto’s championship Derby performance:
1. Soto entered the competition red hot: Soto went yard in five of his last nine games heading into the All-Star break. He is in the midst of a 26-game on-base streak (the longest stretch in the Majors), during which he has posted a .504 on-base percentage. Soto also has not struck out in 40 plate appearances.
2. Going the distance: After hitting a record-setting 520-foot home run at Coors Field in the 2021 Derby, Soto said last week, “I was pretty lucky last year. I don’t know how far I can hit one, but I will see.” Well, he didn’t actually see it bolt out of the park, but Soto pummeled the longest homer of the evening, a Statcast-projected 482 feet at 113 mph in the first round against Ramírez.
“It feels good,” Soto said of the distance. “It feels bad at the same time because you hit it, but you don't have the time to see it, how far it lands. But it feels really amazing at the end of the day. When you see the videos and see how far it lands, it's just amazing. Really impressive what my skills can do.”
3. Showdown vs. an icon: Of all the contestants in the Derby, there was one who stood out to Soto the most: future Hall of Famer Pujols. Soto said last week, “It would be fun going back and forth with that legend.” That came to fruition in the semifinals.
“I wasn't sure if I should beat him or let him beat me,” Soto said. “I respect him a lot. Even though I beat him, at the end of the day, it's just a competition. He knows how much I'm proud of him and how much talent he brings to all the generations and advice that he gives to us.”
4. All over the park: Of the lessons he learned from his debut competition last year, Soto realized he does not have to just pull the ball to be effective. This illustration of his homers on Monday tells the story.
“I can go either way -- in and out -- and I can go left, center, right, everywhere, because I figured out I have the power to hit the ball that way,” Soto said.
5. He’s only 23: Soto’s accomplishments frequently are linked to his age -- he does not turn 24 years old until Oct. 25. Adding to his accolades, he became the second-youngest player to win the Derby by one day. (Juan Gonzalez took home the 1993 title at 23 years and 265 days old.) Per STATS, Soto is the only player to win a World Series, a batting title and a Derby in five years or less. Soto, though, is actually a veteran compared to his final-round competitor: Rodríguez is just 21 years old and made his Major League debut on April 8.
“It shows you the generation we have coming up soon,” Soto said. “And the future players in the Minor Leagues that are coming up soon, it shows that they have a lot of talent and they are ready to play baseball.”