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Soto on same fast track as Vlad, Harper, Robles

Nats' 19-year-old prospect already playing at third level this year
MLB.com @JonathanMayo

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Fans of the Harrisburg Senators have been treated to some pretty special hitters over the years. Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero spent most of the 1996 season here and made his big league debut that summer. Bryce Harper was a Senator in 2011, playing 37 games before winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award the following season. And super-prospect Victor Robles roamed the outfield for 37 games last year as a 20-year-old and made his big league debut at the end of the season.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Fans of the Harrisburg Senators have been treated to some pretty special hitters over the years. Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero spent most of the 1996 season here and made his big league debut that summer. Bryce Harper was a Senator in 2011, playing 37 games before winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award the following season. And super-prospect Victor Robles roamed the outfield for 37 games last year as a 20-year-old and made his big league debut at the end of the season.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

All of this points to one thing: 19-year-old Juan Soto may have just arrived this week, but don't expect him to be here long.

Soto recently vaulted up to No. 15 on the Top 100 Prospects list in MLB Pipeline's Market Corrections. He began the year in the Class A South Atlantic League, earned a promotion after 16 games, then was bumped up to Harrisburg just 15 games later, ahead of pretty much everyone's schedule.

"That was one of my goals, to come here this year," said Soto, who promptly doubled and homered in his first two Double-A at-bats on Thursday. "I didn't think it was going to happen too fast. I just tried to do my job, and it happened. I didn't think I'd come here that fast, but now I'm here."

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: New level? No problem.Juan Soto comes through with a two-run double in his first at-bat for @HbgSenators. Soto is the #Nationals No. 2 prospect: https://t.co/bxIpqDams5 pic.twitter.com/Eoa9bqfFjv

"I was a little bit surprised, but our front office, if they didn't think he could handle it, he wouldn't be here right now," Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy said. "Hopefully, he'll continue to do well. There are a lot of parts to this game -- the baserunning, the defensive part -- that I'm sure he's going to have to get better at. That's why he's here at a more advanced level. The hitting part, you can tell he's locked in."

That's an understatement. Even after a 2-for-14 start with Harrisburg, Soto has a .348/.461/.763 line with 13 homers and 46 RBIs, and he is leading the Minors in runs batted in and OPS (1.224). He brings with him a presence and understanding of hitting that belies his years.

"The small sample size I've seen of him, he's a pretty special talent," LeCroy said. "He has the ability to slow the game down. He has a level of maturity that's pretty amazing at that age. The guy I can compare him to that I played with is [Joe] Mauer. I saw Mauer come to big league camp at 17 and 18 years old, and the way he carried himself, the way he took his batting practice, the way he prepared, it reminds me a lot of Joe and that level of maturity."

That maturity undoubtedly helped Soto, who insists on doing interviews in English so he can improve his English skills, deal with a frustrating 2017 season. It's not that the outfielder didn't hit (he had a .360/.427/.523 line with Hagerstown), but he only played 23 games there because of a slew of injuries.

"It was so hard because it was the first time I was hurt like that," said Soto, who had ankle, hamate and hamstring injuries to contend with. "I'd come back, then I'd get hurt again, come back and get hurt again. It was hard, but now I say that's in the past. Now we're in the present. Let's do it."

The fact that Soto missed so much time in what was supposed to be his first full season makes his rapid ascent this year that much more remarkable. A huge advantage has been his plate discipline. Soto has walked more than he's struck out so far this season and has a career .432 on-base percentage.

Video: WSH@MIA: Soto crushes a two-run homer to right-center

"I think that's the only reason they were able to move him," LeCroy said. "He just has this way of knowing what's going to be a ball and what's going to be a strike. I played against Barry Bonds and some really, really great hitters that didn't swing at balls, and he's got it. You can see he has that ability to say, 'No, that's not a strike.'"

It's unclear just how many hurdles Soto can clear this year, but there are plenty of examples of fast-rising prospects whose course he could follow, starting with Braves phenom Ronald Acuna Jr., who went from the Florida State League to Triple-A as a teenager in 2017 and is now in the big leagues at age 20, as well as a certain organization mate.

"Yeah, why not?" Soto said. "I see a lot of good things about him. About Victor Robles, too. When I got here for the first time, I just see Robles who moved so fast. And I just look at him, looking at what he does and try to do the same."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

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