No longer an ASG newbie, Soto still eager to learn from MLB stars

July 18th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Before he became one of the top players in baseball, Juan Soto learned by watching others of that caliber. It is an approach he still takes even as he earned his second All-Star selection at just 23 years old.

A dedicated student of the game, Soto will have the opportunity to glean knowledge from some of the best in baseball in Los Angeles during the 2022 Major League All-Star Game and the T-Mobile Home Run Derby.

“He’s always got questions; he has good questions,” seven-time All-Star Nelson Cruz said of Soto. “That’s the typical idea for all the players that go to the All-Star Game: get to know other players and pick their brains. That’s basically one of the first things that comes to every player's mind.”

Though young, Soto has gotten to know many of baseball’s elite during his accomplished five-year Major League career. He has a deep appreciation for those who set standards of excellence and achieved notable feats before him.

When Soto collected his 500th career hit in April, as an example, he recognized fellow All-Star Miguel Cabrera for his 3,000-hit milestone. Soto noted how he has been inspired by Cabrera, 39, and said he aspires to reach a similar feat.

So it should come as no surprise that Soto was looking forward to watching a 22-year veteran slugger in action in the Home Run Derby.

“I would love to see Albert [Pujols] hitting balls,” Soto said. “He was amazing when he was in his first Home Run Derby, and I want to see how fun it can be. It might be his last Home Run Derby.”

He added, “That would be fun to go back-and-forth with that legend.”

Soto received a crash course in power hitting during All-Star Weekend last season when he faced top-seeded Shohei Ohtani in the first round of the Home Run Derby in Denver. He upset the two-way phenom in an epic swing-off that included a massive 513-foot blast from Ohtani and a record-setting 520-foot shot from Soto.

Looking back on his All-Star debut, learning from being challenged by another offensive force was a highlight.

“That was the most fun part of the whole Home Run Derby for me,” Soto said. “Especially to be right there competing against the best hitter of the Home Run Derby, it was great.”

For everything Soto has soaked in from his more experienced counterparts, he already has become a source of knowledge and an example to follow at only 23. On a Nationals club that spans 20 years between teammates, he is revered by players of all ages for the insight he has to offer.

“He’s pretty mature. Definitely, it doesn’t feel like that’s his age,” said Cruz, 42. “It’s not common in young players. … The way he prepares himself is really unique. I’ve been around a lot of players, but definitely you see a special player in him. Not only the way he performs out there, but the way he carries himself.”

Even though Soto is heading to L.A. eager to learn, manager Dave Martinez -- who was selected to the National League coaching staff by Braves manager Brian Snitker -- would not be surprised if it is actually Soto who is on the receiving end of questions by his fellow All-Stars.

“You look at him and he always talks about veteran guys -- he’s been here quite a while,” Martinez said. “I think most of the guys are going to pick his brain, I really do. I believe that.”