SAN DIEGO -- Juan Soto remembers watching Josh Hamilton propel 28 dingers out of Yankee Stadium during the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby.
“It blew my mind,” Soto said on Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park. “It’s crazy that he didn’t win, but he was, wow.”
The Nationals’ slugger will look to make his own mark on the competition on Monday at Coors Field in Denver. Soto joins Shohei Ohtani, Pete Alonso, Trevor Story, Trey Mancini, Matt Olson, Salvador Perez and Joey Gallo in a star-studded Derby field.
Soto, who's also a first-time All-Star this year, has 11 home runs for Washington this season, including a three-run drive in the first inning Wednesday night against Padres starter Chris Paddack.
Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long will pitch to Soto in the Derby.
“You don’t practice for it -- you just swing at it,” Soto said. “Yesterday, we tried a couple times in BP with K-Long just throwing me a couple balls where I want it, and the ball was carrying really well, so I think we’re in good shape.”
Soto, 22, has 80 homers in his four big league seasons. He believes the reps of the Derby could help him get on an uptick after the All-Star Break.
“It might mess with the swing of all the guys that are locked in, but I think it’s going to fix mine because I’m hitting too many ground balls,” Soto said. “I hope it fixes my swing trying to put the ball in the air. That’s what we’ve been trying the whole year, so I hope it fixes mine.”
Even with the competition being a timed event, Soto isn’t ruling out an appearance of the well-known Soto Shuffle. Its logo is already printed on his batting gloves.
“They’re going to see the shuffle everywhere now,” he said.
Soto could become the second Nationals player to win the Derby in the last three times it has been held, after Bryce Harper won the 2018 Home Run Derby in front of the home crowd at Nationals Park. (Harper defeated Soto’s now-teammate, Kyle Schwarber, who’s already offered Soto advice.) But Soto will have to go through the reigning champion Alonso, the hometown slugger Story, the two-way superstar Ohtani and the rest of the 2021 participants.
“Hit everything oppo,” Soto said of his approach. “I’m going lefty-lefty. I’m just going to try to hit the ball in the air and see how far it can land.”