'The Generational Juan Soto' touches down at Yankees camp

February 19th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- When pictures himself dressed in pinstripes, jogging across the Yankee Stadium outfield on a midsummer evening later this season, he envisions an “electric” atmosphere that will “feel like home.”

That’s exactly what the Yankees are banking on, hoping that Soto will enjoy his New York experience so much that it becomes impossible to leave.

“You see the lineup, you see our bullpen, starters, everything,” Soto said. “We have everything that we need. The talent, the organization we are, it’s amazing. It’s incredible. And we’re more than excited about this season.”

With Soto less than a year away from reaching free agency, much about the future is unsettled, but the Yankees are sure glad to have Soto on their side right now. Soto arrived at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Monday along with the team’s other position players, saying that he expects this to be a great season for the Bronx Bombers.

“It’s going to be really fun,” Soto said. “I think it’s going to be unbelievable, from top to bottom.”

Stationed at the podium in a pavilion area off the third-base side of the Yanks’ spring home, Soto already appeared at ease. He tugged on a cap with the interlocking “NY” while sporting a T-shirt bearing his own name, touting the arrival of “The Generational Juan Soto.”

The backs of Soto’s baseball cards make no dissenting argument; with an elite blend of power and patience, he is indeed already a generational talent, one who has earned offensive comparisons to Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

“He’s just a magnificent hitter, really,” said ace Gerrit Cole. “The best feel for the strike zone that I’ve ever come across. Man, is he going to be tough to deal with. He’s a combination of Create-A-Player statistics and attributes at the plate. I’m very thankful that I don’t have to pitch against him, and very thankful that he’s on our side.”

Soto understands his surroundings as well, identifying former Yankees second baseman Robinson Canó as a childhood favorite and present-day mentor.

“That’s a guy who I followed since I was a little kid, and I wanted to be like,” said Soto, who noted that they played together for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and that Canó reached out to congratulate Soto after he was traded to the Yanks.

As for the hazy future, Soto’s unsettled contract situation has seen him bounce between three organizations in the last two calendar years. Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension offer from the Nationals, who traded him to the Padres in August 2022.

San Diego never gained traction in its efforts to extend Soto, prompting the Padres to deal Soto and outfielder to the Yankees in December for five players: Jhony Brito, Kyle Higashioka, Michael King, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe.

“He’s definitely one of the best left-handed hitters in the game,” Grisham said of Soto. “Just being around him and seeing him work every day, it’s impressive and it’s fun to be around. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table. He’s a lively guy and a good human being.”

In many ways, this season could represent a test drive of sorts for Soto, who will get a free year to examine every aspect of the Yankees’ organization.

General manager Brian Cashman said earlier this week that he expects Soto to test the free-agent market after the season, though he did not rule out potentially making an extension offer before that point. Soto said that he plans to leave the business decisions to his agent Scott Boras.

“I let Scott do whatever he’s doing. For me, I’m just focusing on ’24,” Soto said. “I’m here to play baseball, focusing on playing this year and trying to win as much as we can, and bring a championship to New York.”

Manager Aaron Boone said that he sees a potent left-right combo at the top of the batting order with Soto and captain , who likely will hit second and third, respectively.

“We know the strike zone pretty well, so I think it’s going to be two walks or two gappers,” Soto said. “Competing in front of him, I’ve got to try to be on the bases as much as I can so he can do his job and drop the hammer to the ball.”

While the off-field drama of Soto’s contractual walk year isn’t likely to vanish anytime soon, count Giancarlo Stanton among those who can’t wait to see what Soto and Judge can do back-to-back in the batters’ box.

“Seeing him and Judge tear apart the league is going to be awesome,” Stanton said. “The plate discipline, setting up pitchers, everything -- they’re the elite of the league.”