Think Soto had a good '19? Don't tell him that

February 17th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- How does belting five home runs in the postseason en route to a World Series championship and making a name for himself in Major League Baseball change ’s mindset heading into Spring Training?

Not at all, actually.

“It’s the same mentality: You’ve got to make the team,” he said Monday afternoon -- the last day Nationals' position players had to report to FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Does he really need to question that? Last year, Soto hit a team high 34 homers (tied with Anthony Rendon) and slashed .282/.401/.548 before his breakout October, during which he amassed a.927 OPS and 14 RBIs. Yet the 21-year-old views his spot in the Nationals outfield as a competition, not a guarantee.

“I’m going to fight for my place,” he said. “I’m going to keep working hard, keep playing baseball the right way because it’s a lot of new players, a lot of new outfielders and you don’t want to get comfortable on this team. You want to keep going. I come here to play for one spot, and that’s why I’m here.”

Soto will have the opportunity to be a major contributor on the Nationals this season, especially as they look to replace the offensive production of Rendon, who signed with the Angels as a free agent. His “earn everything” attitude sits well with manager Dave Martinez.

“I like that he’s thinking that way,” Martinez said. “We talk about complacency. When he makes comments like that, I know where he’s at. And that’s a good thing. With that being said, he’s going to play left field. He looks great.”

To continue improving, Soto is focusing on his swing, two-strike approach, defense and baserunning. He’s making sure to rest his body while keeping with the same routine that helped him find last year. Soto wants to work on his all-around performance because “everything’s going to help the team win,” he said. Not just one particular aspect.

Beyond his play, Soto has the potential to become one of the game’s biggest names. He already is in elite company for his age. Only seven players in the history of baseball -- Mike Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott and Mickey Mantle -- have hit better than him through age 21.

“Having been with him for a year-and-a-half now, I know who he is and I know what he’s trying to do,” Martinez said. “And I know he wants to be the best.”

During his time home this offseason, Soto learned from those who have played in the Majors before him. While he chose to keep them nameless, he shared the impact of their words.

“I saw a lot of legends down there in the Dominican,” he said. “They always come to me like they are my dad, and I feel really proud of that. I feel really amazing. Every advice they give to me feels really good. They just try to help me out, and I appreciated that.”

Soto isn’t letting last year’s success alter who he is or his approach.

There is one, change, though that he embraces.

“We are champions,” he said. “That’s the difference; now we are the champions. Now we feel better, now we are happy to come back and show the people we can do it again.”