As significant a feat as hitting three home runs in one game may be, not everyone was surprised at Junior Soto's offensive explosion on Saturday night, least of all his hitting coach.
Soto homered in each of his last three at-bats, including a game-tying shot in the ninth, as Class A Lake County rallied for a 5-3, 10-inning win over South Bend at Four Winds Field.
Gameday box score
The 20-year-old entered with two homers in 17 games and six in his first 133 professional contests. He became the second Captain this season to go deep three times in one game, joining Jose Medina who did it against Lansing on April 15.
"Junior spent a lot of time down in extended [spring training] working on his craft and getting into stronger positions to hit. Since he's been here, he's swinging with great intent and confidence," Captains hitting coach Justin Toole said. "If you asked me in Spring Training if he could have [hit three homers in one game], I would have said no. But with the way he's been swinging since he arrived here, I'm not surprised. The confidence and intent is a mixture for success."
Video: Lake County's Soto goes deep three times
Playing his 18th game above Rookie ball, Soto started his night inauspiciously by striking out in the first. The outfielder took starter Jose Paulino over the center-field wall leading off the fourth, then pulled a 1-0 offering from the No. 14 Cubs prospect to left with two outs and none on in the sixth. With Lake County trailing by a run in the ninth, Soto took aim at center field again, launching his third jack to tie the game, 3-3. The blast gave him five homers in the last five games in which he's had a plate appearance.
2017 Minor League milestones
"Just having a good approach and just trying to hit the ball hard," Toole said of Soto. "As a hitter, you're always trying to do that. He found pitches he could hit and hit hard, and tonight they found the seats.
"It's exciting to watch, and not just because of tonight. Watching the way he works and the way he goes about things is a treat. The adjustments he's made since Spring Training is not only super-exciting for our squad but for the organization. He's given a jolt to our lineup on offense and defense since he's been here. Anytime you've got a talent like that as a hitting coach, it makes going to the cages and the games a lot of fun"
Signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Soto hit .282/.319/.506 with two long balls and 12 RBIs in 26 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer. The native of the Dominican Republic was assigned to Lake County on May 24 and batted .346 in his first nine games in the Midwest League. Soto entered Saturday in a 3-for-29 slump but emerged with his second three-hit game and fourth multi-hit effort of the year.
"He's a kid that's been swinging the bat well, especially in terms of hard contact," Toole said. "Whether it's in the gap, over the wall or right at somebody doesn't really matter. Just hit the ball as hard as you can, as often as you can.
"Junior's a big, lanky, strong kid. These kinds of results are possible with someone like that, and tonight we saw it. It's a credit to the hard work he's put in."
Lake County's Ben Krauth, Henry Martinez (2-2) and Dalbert Siri allowed two hits and five walks with seven strikeouts over six innings of scoreless relief. Siri picked up his sixth save.
Logan Ice's two-run homer to center off Wyatt Short (1-2) in the 10th lifted the Captains to their fourth straight win.